High-Calorie Beverages Still Widely Available in U.S. Elementary Schools


High-calorie beverages that have been disallowed by federal guidelines are still available in most U.S. elementary schools, according to a study that will appear in an upcoming issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.


Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a nationally representative survey to examine the availability of high-calorie and sugar-sweetened beverages for sale in elementary schools during lunchtime, in vending machines and snack bars, and in school stores. They also examined the types of milk available in school cafeterias: low-fat, whole-fat and flavored milks (right).

While 16.1% of students could purchase only those beverages recommended by Institute of Medicine guidelines during the 2008–2009 school year, 44.7% could purchase beverages that the guidelines frown upon. This pattern applied to both public and private school.

Most public-school students (68% to 79%) had access to higher-fat milk at lunch between 2006 and 2009—a percentage that declined last year. By the 2008–2009 school year, 31.7% of students could purchase only lower-fat milk. Unfortunately, 92.1% of students whose schools participated in the National School Lunch Program could purchase flavored milk at lunch on most days; 98.4% could buy it on some, most or all days.

The researchers commend efforts to reform school beverage menus but agree there are “many more opportunities for change.” They note: “Much work remains to be done to reduce the availability of unhealthy beverages in elementary schools in the United States, and we encourage policymakers, school officials and parents to work together to address this important issue.””

 Fast Facts

  1. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program served meals to more than 31 million students in 2008.
  2. School vending machines and snack bars should sell only bottled water, 100% juice, and nonfat or 1% milk, according to The Institute of Science and Medicine.

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