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Research Letter
Aug 2012

Trends in Competitive Venue Beverage Availability: Findings From US Secondary Schools

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(8):776-778. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.716

Competitive beverages include all beverages served or sold in schools outside of federally reimbursable meal programs.1 The Alliance for a Healthier Generation developed a set of criteria known as the School Beverage Guidelines,2 which identify approved beverage types, caloric content, and volume by school level. Approved beverages for all school levels include water, fat-free/low-fat milks, and 100% juices (approved volume and caloric content vary across grades). Additional beverages approved only for high school include no-/low-calorie beverages and drinks with up to 66 calories per 8 ounces. The Alliance guideline approval of drinks with up to 66 calories per 8 ounces currently includes the top sports drinks sold in the United States, which are classified as sugar-sweetened beverages because of added sugars.3 This article (1) uses the Alliance guidelines as a framework to present trends in competitive venue beverage availability in US secondary schools from 2006-2007 to 2010-2011 and (2) examines differences in access between middle and high school students.


Analyses used annual data from school years 2006-2007 to 2010-2011 collected through the Youth, Education, and Society study from nationally representative samples of US schools that have eighth, 10th, or 12th grades. Questionnaires were collected from 1477 middle schools and 1575 high schools for a combined response rate of 82.5%. Mailed questionnaires were sent to each sampled school's principal with the suggestion that food service personnel complete the detailed questions on cross-venue beverage availability. Participants indicated whether beverages were available in each of the various venues noted and were then asked about the availability of specific beverages in each venue. Detailed methods are available elsewhere.4


Ninety-one percent of middle school students and 99% of high school students attended schools with beverages sold through a competitive venue in the 2010-2011 school year, representing a significant decrease of 6 percentage points for middle school students and 1 percentage point for high school students from 2006-2007 (Table). Vending machine beverage availability significantly declined for both middle and high school students during the 4-year interval examined.

Table. Trends in the Percentage of US Public Secondary School Students With Access to Beverages in Competitive Venues, 2006-2007 to 2010-2011 School Yearsa
Table. Trends in the Percentage of US Public Secondary School Students With Access to Beverages in Competitive Venues, 2006-2007 to 2010-2011 School Yearsa

The significant decline observed in overall middle school competitive venue beverage availability occurred across most beverage types. However, middle school availability of beverages with Alliance approval only for high school remained very high (71% of students) in 2010-2011. Middle school availability also remained high for high-calorie fruit drinks (23%) and higher-fat milks (36%)—beverages not approved for either middle or high schools. Other than approved beverages (waters, 100% juices, lower-fat milks), the beverage with the highest middle school availability was a sugar-sweetened beverage: sports drinks (55% of students in 2010-2011).

High school students had significantly higher availability of all beverages examined than did middle school students. High school availability of regular soft drinks dropped by more than half across the study period, from 54% of students in 2006-2007 to 25% in 2010-2011. Significant decreases also were observed for higher-fat milks and high-calorie fruit drinks; still, their availability rates remained high at 48% and 31% of students, respectively. Overall high school student sugar-sweetened beverage availability also showed a significant decline (down to 88% by the 2010-2011 school year). However, sports drink availability showed no significant decline, with 83% of high school students having availability at school in 2010-2011.


The American Academy of Pediatrics has reaffirmed its 2004 policy statement calling for the elimination of sweetened drinks in schools.5,6 Sweetened drinks have been found to be the primary source of added dietary sugars in children,7 and sugar-sweetened beverages obtained at school have been found to significantly contribute to secondary school student caloric intake.8 As of 2011, 1 in 4 high school students had access to regular soft drinks in competitive venues at school. Competitive venues are currently exempt from nutrition regulations that govern federally sponsored meal programs. However, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S 3307, 111th Congress) has provided the US Department of Agriculture with authority to set nutritional standards for school competitive venue foods and beverages.9 These standards are currently under development.10

The Institute of Medicine has recommended nutrition standards for foods and beverages in schools,11 including removal of regular colas or sodas with sugar or caffeine; limiting access to sugar-free, caffeine-free beverages to high school students only (and only after school hours); and strongly limiting sports drinks, with use only “when provided by the school for student athletes participating in sport programs involving vigorous activity of more than 1 hour's duration.” Overall, the Institute of Medicine recommendations appear to be highly relevant as the US Department of Agriculture works to develop competitive venue nutritional standards for US schools.

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Article Information

Correspondence: Ms Terry-McElrath, PO Box 1248, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248 (yterry@umich.edu).

Author Contributions:Study concept and design: Terry-McElrath and Johnston. Acquisition of data: Johnston. Analysis and interpretation of data: Terry-McElrath, Johnston, and O’Malley. Drafting of the manuscript: Terry-McElrath. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Terry-McElrath, Johnston, and O’Malley. Statistical analysis: Terry-McElrath and O’Malley. Obtained funding: Johnston. Study supervision: Johnston.

Financial Disclosure: None reported.

Funding/Support: Research support was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Youth, Education, and Society study, a part of the foundation's Bridging the Gap initiative.

US Dept of Agriculture.  Foods Sold in Competition With USDA School Meal Programs. Washington, DC: US Dept of Agriculture; 2001
 School beverage guidelines. Alliance for a Healthier Generation website. http://www.healthiergeneration.org/companies.aspx?id=1376. Accessed January 26, 2012
 Sugar-sweetened beverages fact sheet: sports drinks. Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity website. http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/resources/upload/docs/what/policy/SSBtaxes/SSB_SportsDrinks_Spring2012%20.pdf. Accessed May 31, 2012
Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Terry-McElrath YM, Freedman-Doan P, Brenner JS. School Policies and Practices to Improve Health and Prevent Obesity: National Secondary School Survey Results, School Years 2006-07 and 2007-08Ann Arbor, MI: Bridging the Gap Program, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research; 2011. http://www.bridgingthegapresearch.org/_asset/984r22/SS_2011_monograph.pdf. Accessed May 31, 2012
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on School Health.  Soft drinks in schools.  Pediatrics. 2004;113(1, pt 1):152-15414702469PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
American Academy of Pediatrics.  AAP publications retired and reaffirmed.  Pediatrics. 2009;123(5):1421-1422Google ScholarCrossref
Guthrie JF, Morton JF. Food sources of added sweeteners in the diets of Americans.  J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100(1):43-51, quiz 49-5010646004PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Briefel RR, Crepinsek MK, Cabili C, Wilson A, Gleason PM. School food environments and practices affect dietary behaviors of US public school children.  J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(2):(suppl)  S91-S10719166677PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
 Agriculture Secretary Vilsack statement on passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Release 0632.10. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2010/12/0632.xml. Published 2010. Accessed January 25, 2012
 USDA unveils historic improvements to meals served in America's schools. Release 0023.12. US Dept of Agriculture website. http://usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2012/01/0023.xml&navid=NEWS_RELEASE&navtype=RT&parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&edeployment_action=retrievecontent. Accessed January 25, 2012
 Recommended Nutrition Standards for Foods Outside of School Meal Programs: Information for School Nutrition Service PersonnelAtlanta, GA: Division of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/nutrition/pdf/nutrition_factsheet_service.pdf. Accessed January 26, 2012