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Healthier choices being introduced
Purchasing sugary soft drinks on school campuses has become a harder sell in Oklahoma in recent months, and some area school districts are already starting to comply with a new law to limit minimally nutritious foods.
Gov. Brad Henry recently signed into law a bill restricting junk- food sales in school vending machines starting in 2007.
In addition, the American Beverage Association recommended last week that elementary schools pull soda and other sweetened beverages from vending machines altogether, and that middle and high school students have access to more no-calorie soft drinks, sports drinks and low-calorie juice drinks.
The Broken Arrow, Jenks and Tulsa districts have exclusive contracts with Pepsi, and Union Public Schools has a contract with Coca-Cola.
Much of the money from those contracts goes to individual school sites and pays for after-school tutoring, playground equipment, field trips and other activities.
The Tulsa-area districts with major contracts have already banned soda from elementary schools and have begun to modify policies for middle and high schools, officials said.
The adjustments have pleased members of the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition, who pushed the passage of the junk-food restriction law in March.
"We know it's not the entire responsibility of the school system to keep kids healthy, it's also parental and societal," said Anne Roberts, Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition Project Director. "But this is a wonderful step in the right direction."
Roberts said that school districts have been working to adjust their contracts to add healthier drinks, such as sports drinks, water and low-calorie sports drinks.
"There are two issues. No. 1, we need to teach our children to make healthier choices, and No. 2, we need to actually have healthier choices for them to choose," she said.
Starting in 2007, non-nutritious snacks will be banned in all Oklahoma elementary schools except on special occasions. For middle and high schools, students will have access to minimally nutritious foods only after school, at evening events and on special occasions. High schools will be required to offer healthy foods as well as junk foods.
Broken Arrow Public Schools is eight years into a 10-year Pepsi contract.
Its middle schools turn off vending machines at lunch, said district spokesman Keith Isbell, leaving those students access only after school to machines that carry soda products, sports drinks and bottled water. High school students have access to water and soda machines throughout the day.
Jenks Public Schools also is in the middle of a 10-year Pepsi contract. Middle schools there have vending machines stocked with soda, sports drinks and water, but only in the gymnasium areas.
For high schools, the district limits students' use of vending machines to before or after school and at lunchtime only, said district spokeswoman Dana Ezell.
"In the cafeterias, last year starting midyear, we no longer serve pop," Ezell said. "We serve fruit juice, Gatorade, water and tea."
She said the district has also begun offering more milk products through a contract separate from Pepsi.
Linda Phillips, director of purchasing at Tulsa Public Schools, said the district's contract does not limit secondary students' access to soda or other beverages while at school, but she said the district is working with Pepsi to implement the new law's changes.
TPS renewed its contract with Pepsi in June. The contract runs through 2008, but must be renewed annually by the school board. Phillips predicted the law would affect all area contracts.
"Obviously, this wave of concern is widespread. Pepsi will have to adjust their product offerings to meet the legislation," Phillips said. "We feel there will be machines there (in the future), but there will be changes."
Union Public Schools entered a five-year contract with Coca-Cola in July 2004, said purchasing director David Young. The district gives school site principals much of the control in determining the times students can purchase drinks or snacks from the vending machines.
He said the district is working on modifications for middle and high school vending machine offerings, and it plans to offer price incentives to choose healthier drinks, in expectation of the 2007 laws.
"The price for sugared beverages will be more expensive than nonsugared or noncarbon beverages," Young said.
Union is unique in its contract, which is driven by commission off sales from machines.
"If changes are made either legislatively or internally, it could very well impact the overall revenue we receive," Young said. "We give almost all that money right back to the schools, into their activity funds or use it to support activities at schools."
Kim Brown 581-8474
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