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Some local schools provide soda for students

Posted: 8:54 PM, Sep 24, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-24 21:54:03-04

At Blue Valley schools in Overland Park, students can pick from endless options in the school cafeteria. One thing they can't choose is soda.

"We don't offer soda during the school day for students in any of the cafeterias where we serve lunches," said Charles Rathbun, Blue Valley's Director of Food and Nutrition Services.

During the school day, all Blue Valley high schools turn off their soda vending machines. It's the district's attempt to direct students to other, healthier drinks.

"Providing the best option for students, and we didn't feel that soda was that option," said Rathbun.

RELATED | KC area schools adapt to school lunch rules

Just down the road in Olathe, they have a similar approach. Olathe says their vending machines are often turned off during the school day.

Metro high schools that still provide some soda in vending machines include schools in the KCK, Park Hill, Independence, Liberty and Lee's Summit districts.

Children’s health and soda

University of Kansas Hospital pediatrician Anna Esparham says soda does not belong in school.

"Soda is a big whopping dose of sugar, increases insulin levels. You're going to have increased chances of inflammatory reaction, which is basically fire in the body, and predisposition to chronic disease and illness," said Esparham.

Many studies also link it to childhood obesity. But the schools quickly point out only diet soda is on school grounds.

"All of our sodas that we offer in schools are calorie free; they must be diet sodas. We would still consider that a calorie free option which is much better than a full-flavored soda," said Josh Mathiasmeier, the KCK school district's Director of Nutritional Services.

The schools are not breaking the rules. USDA guidelines allow soda in high schools, as long as it's under a certain amount of calories.

RELATED | KC schools in food fight over school lunch rules

"Them choosing that, versus Powerade, a juice or a milk -- kids are kids, you know, if they would like that option they're going to choose it," said Mathiasmeier.

Why soda may remain in some schools

So why are some schools still providing any soda for students? In many cases, it's all about the cash.

The most recent CDC report on the subject from 2012 says 69 percent of American schools receive a percentage of soft drink sales receipts from vending machines.

CDC Report: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/shpps/pdf/fs_trends_shpps2012.pdf

The CDC also reports that 34 percent of schools still receive cash awards or other incentives from soda companies. The Independence district is one of them.

"We do have a contract with PepsiCo, and so there is one school in our district that they do come in and it is through their student government that they actually get the proceeds off those vending, off those pop machines. It goes to their student government," said Kristin Parvin of Independence Schools' Nutrition Services department.

Many schools across the country say they need the money from soda to pay for a variety of district needs.

The recent healthier school lunch requirements put in place by the federal government put more pressure on local schools, while increasing the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches by only six cents.

"You know, we could always use more money. We won't say we can't use more money," said KCK's Mathiasmeier.

Independence schools also report issues with funding.

"It comes to a point where if our dishwasher isn't working or if we need new equipment that might go on the back burner because we are spending more money on fruits and vegetables," said Parvin.

Still, other schools are finding ways to make it work. Shawnee-Mission schools also do not provide soda for students, choosing more healthy options over more cash.

"We have to find a way to put money back into the schools so they don't have to take it from the food or beverage companies," said Esparham.

On its website, the Coca-Cola Company addresses the obesity issue, saying, "Coca-Cola and other food and beverage companies are viewed by some as major contributors to the problem, but real solutions are more complex than selecting targets for blame."

When we contacted Pepsi, they directed us to the American Beverage Association. Click here to read more about the ABA's position on soda in schools. 

Author’s note: Kansas City Public Schools ignored multiple requests to take part in this story.

NEXT: Where school districts stand on soda in school 

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PARK HILL

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

They provide students with some Farm-to-Table food - food that comes directly from local farms. District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

Mostly supportive, but would like to see some tweaks, including more flexibility in the amount of whole grains that are included in lunches.

Do they provide soda to students?

Diet soda is available in high school vending machines.

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OLATHE

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. Food comes from vendors. District says it’s too big to attempt Farm-to-Table.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

The district did not wish to share an opinion on the guidelines.

Do they provide soda to students?

Some soda is available in vending machines in high schools, but school officials say the machines are “often” turned off during the school day.

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INDEPENDENCE

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. The food is mostly provided by vendors, with a limited amount of Farm-to-Table food provided on occasion.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

The district would like more flexibility with the requirements, in particular dropping the mandate that requires students to put fruits and vegetables on their plate.

Do they provide soda to students?

The district has a contract with Pepsi in one high school. Soda is provided in vending machines only. District says contract with Pepsi helps to fund student government.

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KCK

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. The food is mostly provided by vendors, with a limited amount of Farm-to-Table food provided on occasion.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

The district is mostly supportive of the federal rules, citing a positive reaction from students.

Do they provide soda to students?

Diet soda is provided in high school vending machines.

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LEE’S SUMMIT

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. Food is provided by vendors, but several schools have school gardens, which supply some food to the cafeterias. The district says it also encourages vendors to use locally grown food as often as possible.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

The district has concerns about the federal rules, in particular the mandate that requires students to put fruits and vegetables on their plate. Says much of the healthy food is ending up in the trash. Also believes whole grain and sodium requirements go too far.

Do they provide soda to students?

Diet soda is provided in some high school vending machines.

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SHAWNEE-MISSION

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. Most food is provided by a vendor, but the district did partner with an urban farm program to utilize some of their garden produce in schools.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

Did not share a specific opinion, but did say over the past year the district has seen a 2.5 percent increase in the number of students eating school lunches.

Do they provide soda to students?

No. As part of a district wellness policy, soda is not provided for students.

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LIBERTY

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. Says food comes from vendors, but that they’re looking into bringing some Farm-to-Table food into the cafeterias.

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

Did not provide a specific opinion.

Do they provide soda to students?

Diet soda is provided in some high school vending machines.

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BLUE VALLEY

What have they done to make school lunches healthier?

Blue Valley says school lunches there were already healthy before the new regulations took hold. Their food comes from vendors. District says all school lunches meet the federal guidelines. 

Where do they stand on the federal, healthy lunch guidelines?

Mostly supportive. 

Do they provide soda to students?

Soda vending machines in high schools are turned off during the school day.

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KANSAS CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Ignored requests to take part in our story.
 

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Justin Wilfon can be reached at justin.wilfon@kshb.com .

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