Vending machines to sell healthier snacks

June 7, 2004, midnight | By Brittany Moyer | 16 years, 7 months ago

County makes new standards for snacks, promotes nutritious choices in school machines

Beginning next fall, beverages and snacks sold in MCPS vending machines and school stores will meet new nutritional standards set by the MCPS Board of Education (BOE) in March. The BOE action follows a national pattern among schools to combat increasing child obesity by replacing junk food in vending machines with healthier options.

The new BOE vending machine directive may create significant financial losses for Blair and broaden the impact of a BOE decision last December that restricted the hours of operation of vending machines with "minimally nutritious" items like sodas and unhealthy snacks. Principal Phillip Gainous indicated in December that Blair could lose tens of thousands of dollars because of those restrictions.

Blair uses revenue from the machines to fund several needs not financed by MCPS, including the purchase of computers and payment of AP or SAT test fees for students unable to afford them.

Significant financial losses have not occurred yet, and Blair has continued to receive an annual payment of $55,000 under an exclusive contract with Pepsi for the sale of Pepsi drinks in school vending machines. Upon the contract's expiration in three years, Blair will renegotiate with soda companies in hopes of receiving no less than the current payment, according to Business Manager Anne Alban.

The Pepsi Company wants to be a good partner with schools, reiterated Pepsi spokesperson Dave DeCecco. In Pepsi-school relations, the company's mantra is, "The schools set the rules," he said.

In past years, soda machine revenue was so large that the Pepsi Company would award Blair bonus money not promised in the official contract, Gainous recounted. "That well is drying up, and we're not making the kind of money to replenish it," he explained.

School store revenue, which is not tied to the Pepsi contract, has dropped between 15 and 20 percent since the December BOE resolution was implemented. Assistant Principal James Short attributes these losses to the restriction of soft-drink sales.

The BOE discussed the financial impact of school vending machine restrictions but decided to leave it to individual schools to revise their contracts with snack and beverage vendors because vending contracts vary from school to school, according to MCPS Student Member of the Board Sagar Sanghvi.

Pepsi already has begun to meet the national trend toward healthier choices in school vending machines by designing a new beverage, the 50 percent juice SoBe Synergy drink, aimed directly at the youth market.

However, higher production costs for juices and Gatorade may cause Pepsi to trim the amount of commission it makes available to Blair. Additionally, Short expects juice and Gatorade sales to be lower than those of soda.

Under the new BOE policy, current snack items that do not meet the new nutritional standards will be removed from vending machines and replaced with items containing no more than seven grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat and fifteen grams of sugar. Additionally, water, milk, juices of no less than 20 percent fruit juice and isotonic drinks such as Gatorade will be the only beverages sold during school hours.

Blair health teacher Susan Soulé praised the BOE for pushing students toward eating healthier snacks. She also stressed that regular exercise, in addition to a balanced diet, is necessary to maintain a healthy weight. "You need to do 30 minutes of exercise per day—diet alone is not going to control the average person's weight," she said.

Sanghvi, on the other hand, believes that the restrictions are unsound. "I really feel strongly that what a student wants to buy from a vending machine is the student's choice," he said.

The MCPS decision to make school drink and snack options healthier follows a recent report from an MCPS vending machine study group. At the recommendation of the BOE last October, the study group was established as part of a larger MCPS effort to advance teen health and combat childhood obesity.

Nearly nine million children between the ages of six and 19, about 15 percent of the age group, are overweight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Brittany Moyer. Brittany is a senior in the Communication Arts Program at Montgomery Blair. She has taken pride in being part of Blair's girls' soccer team, Blair's <i>a capella</i> group InToneNation, and of course <i>Silver Chips</i>. Outside of school, Brit goes crazy for arts & crafts, outdoorsy … More »

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