Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Changes underway for district vending machines

January 9, 2008

Mill Valley High School students will have to look elsewhere for their morning sugar fix.

Regular soda no longer is sold in the vending machines at Mill Valley as of the beginning of the second semester, which started Monday. Conversely, regular sodas will remain in De Soto High School's vending machine.

Mill Valley Associate Principal Matt Bohm said the school renewed its contract with PepsiCo Inc. and the contract renewal eliminated the sale of regular soda in its vending machines.

"The carbonated beverage industry is required to switch to these new guidelines when they renew a contract," he said.

The change is a result of a 2006 agreement between the nation's top beverage distributors, the American Beverage Association and The Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

The guidelines of the agreement cap school-sold beverages at 100 calories per container, except for certain milks and juices.

Under the terms of the agreement, the beverage industry will work to spread these standards to 75 percent of the nation's schools prior to the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. The industry will strive to fully implement these guidelines prior to the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, provided schools and school districts are willing to amend existing contracts.

Although Mill Valley removed soda because it reached the end of its contract, De Soto High School still has a few years before the end of its contract when sugary sodas will be removed from its machines, said Principal Dave Morford.

Mill Valley health teacher Amy McClure said vending machines have been part of one of the De Soto USD 232's wellness initiatives.

"Following some of the guidelines that the state of Kansas has suggested, we feel there is a place for the vending machines here in school, but we know if there are poor choices offered and they are accessible by the kids, they are going to eat that food," she said.

In 2004, the federal government reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act and required all schools in the National School Lunch Program to have a wellness policy in place by 2006.

Following suit, the Kansas Legislature in 2005 enacted a bill for the Kansas Department of Education to develop a set of wellness policy guidelines to help school districts when developing their individual policies. Included in those guidelines was an approach to vending machine items, which didn't include offering soda.

So Mill Valley's vending machines now have juice, milk, water and sports drinks. Diet soda gets to stay, too.

"We've had some controversy over that whether or not it should be there," McClure said. "It's low calorie but it's really not the best way to hydrate yourself."

As per federal regulations, vending machines cannot be used during school lunch if they are located in the cafeteria. Mill Valley's machines are open before and after school and during the first passing period, Bohm said.

McClure said the biggest change for the students is that they will be living without easy access to drinks like Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi. The vending machine has been at the school since it opened in 2000.

"During passing period they are always around the vending machine," she said.

Bohm said vending machine profits benefit the school's Student Council, although it is not a significant amount. He said he is unsure if the removal of regular soda would decrease sales and therefore decrease funding to the Student Council.

Bohm said he was torn about limiting options available for students.

"What I hope to see is that we are teaching the kids the correct choices," he said. "I don't know if I necessarily agree with banning carbonated sodas from the schools because then you are making the choices for the kids.

"The kids are still going to drink these beverages, they just might bring it in instead of buying it."

Jodi Mackey, director of child nutrition and wellness for the Kansas Department of Education, said it was the job of schools to encourage good habits rather than reinforce bad ones.

"All of us need to accept the responsibility to be good role models and practice healthy behaviors," she said. "I don't know if it will change their habits at home. It will at least assure that for a good portion of the day the children will have access to healthy choices. We are finding that if kids are given healthy choices if that is all that is available they will take the healthy choice and be happy about it."

In the battle against childhood obesity, the nation has huge challenges to overcome, Mackey said.

"We have a whole generation that has grown up with a lot of processed food and a lot of fast food," she said. "This generation expects everything to be extremely convenient. It's going to be a real challenge for all of us to try to change our habits. I think the secret is for adults to understand how important it is for kids to eat healthy."

Bohm, who also is Mill Valley's activities director, said eating healthy is just one piece of the puzzle.

"I also think it is about teaching them to exercise," he said. "It's lifetime fitness. What can you do during your life that is fun to keep you physically fit."

McClure said through education in her health classes some of the students have started to realize that their classmates are drinking too much soda, and worry about the nation's obesity epidemic.

"Honestly, I've asked the kids 'Would you be opposed to removing the vending machines completely?' she said. "There's a good amount of them that say yeah take them out of here."

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