State laws that ban soda in schools — but not other sweetened beverages — have virtually no impact on the amount of sugary drinks middle school students buy and consume at school, a new study shows.
The study, which looked at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.
The study is among the first to directly examine the extent to which state policies on soda in schools influence students’ behavior. With obesity on the rise and teenagers getting about 15 percent of their daily calories from beverages, health groups like the Institute of Medicine have pushed for the removal of all sweetened beverages from schools, and some states have put in place all-out bans on sweetened drinks. California, for example, became the first state to ban the sale of soft drinks in grade schools, in 2003, and one city, Boston, moved earlier this year to forbid the sale and promotion of sugar-sweetened beverages and sodas on all city property.
But the sale of soft drinks in schools has become a lucrative revenue source for many school districts, and a number of states have been reluctant to eliminate them from schools. Some states have instituted only partial bans that remove sodas from schools but not Snapple, Gatorade and other sugary drinks.