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School Vending Machines: Soda Rules

Given the choice, children choose sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks three times more often than any other item from school vending machines.

A new study shows 71% of children's purchases from school vending machines are sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks, and those drinks make a significant contribution to children's total daily sugar and calorie intake.

In light of the growing childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S., researchers say the results are likely to add fuel to the debate over offerings at school vending machines.

In addition, researchers also found that children who eat at fast-food restaurants are more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages than those who don't.

Sugar Sells at School Vending Machines

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers analyzed the dietary habits and purchases of nearly 1,500 students in 10 Massachusetts middle schools with vending machines that sold soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages included regular soda, fruit drinks, and iced tea.

The students were asked about vending-machine purchases and visits to fast-food restaurants in the preceding week. Of the 646 students who reported using school vending machines, 71% reported buying sugar-sweetened sodas or other beverages, including 68% of 505 students who bought one to three vending machine items and 79% of 141 students who bought four or more.

Overall, sugar-sweetened drinks were purchased by almost three times as many students than the next popular item: water.

Researchers found the number of items purchased at school vending machines was directly related to the overall sugar intake of the children. The average number of servings of sugar-sweetened drinks per day increased by 20% among those who purchased one to three items from school vending machines per week and by 70% among those with four or more vending machine purchases per week when compared with children who did not make any vending machine purchases.

Researchers also found that children who ate at fast-food restaurants were also more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages than those who didn't visit fast-food outlets.

"These findings suggest that school vending machines and fast-food restaurants make independent contributions to total [sugar-sweetened beverage] intake that increase with repeated exposure or use," write researcher Jean Wiecha, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues.

SOURCES: Wiecha, J. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, October 2006; vol 106: 1624-1630. News release, American Dietetic Association.

By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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