Soft drinks have been widely available in the nation’s schools for some years, but recently, in response to rising concern about the epidemic of obesity among youth, concerns have been raised as to whether they should be available, and if so, under what circumstances. This paper looks at how widespread soft drink availability is at present in schools, as well as the availability of other classes of beverages. Because overweight occurs disproportionately among minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status (SES), this paper also seeks to determine to what extent environmental conditions differ for these students. Differences between middle and high schools are also examined. Methods
Data for 2004 and 2005 were used from two ongoing United States national surveys: the Youth, Education, and Society (YES) study of school administrators (N=345), and the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study of secondary school students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades surveyed in those same schools (N=37,543). Data were gathered in YES on the availability of various beverages in schools from vending machines and other venues, as well as about the presence and nature of pouring rights contracts with soft drink bottlers. Data were analyzed in 2006. Results
The vast majority of high school students today have soft drinks available to them in the school environment both through vending machines (88%) and in the cafeteria at lunch (59%), with middle schools providing somewhat less access. Diet soft drinks are less available, particularly at lunch. Most students (67% in middle and 83% in high school) are in schools that have a contract with a bottler. Revenues to schools generated by soft drink sales are quite modest. Hispanics are most likely to have soft drinks available throughout the school day. The SES of the students correlates negatively with whether the school allows advertising and promotion of soft drinks. Conclusions
Current school practices regarding soft drink availability, advertising, and sales would seem likely to be contributing to the extent of overweight among American young people, and to some extent to the higher risk faced by Hispanic and lower SES youth.