For Columbus students, the choice is clear


The appearance of vending machine soda has fizzled in the Columbus City School district, and its clear counterpart will now take its place.

The district is phasing out soda selections in vending machines located at middle and high schools, as part of an ongoing Wellness Initiative.

According to district spokesperson Michael Straughter, about 125 schools throughout the district will have water-only vending in student areas. Each middle and high school has an average of two vending machines, he added.

The switch to water in vending machines will not affect those machines inside concession stands. Students will only have access to milk and 100 percent juice in some cafeteria lines.

The choice to eliminate drinks containing sugar and caffeine in vending machines stems from national and local studies about childhood obesity, according to Straughter.

“There are national studies and studies in public health on obesity, particularly in young adults,” Straughter said. “For example, adult diabetes isn’t even called that anymore. The number of children our nurses administer diabetes medicine to has gone up in the last 15 years.”

According to the most recent study done by the Columbus-based Osteopathic Heritage Foundations in 2002, 25 percent of Franklin County children are overweight, compared to the national average of 16 percent. About 31 percent of girls in the county are overweight, and about 30 percent of children living in the city of Columbus are overweight.

Three years ago, the district received more than $1.2 million from OHF to pilot and implement “Healthy & Fit in School and Beyond.” The Wellness Initiative is designed to make the district become a model large urban school district that “embraces wellness,” according to the district. The project lead to the creation of a district School Healthy Advisory Council.

“The grant, when we applied and received it, was the catalyst and gate to funding,” Straughter said, referring to the switch to water-only vending.

Financial risk is not yet known for switching to water in vending, according to Straughter.

“There hasn’t been a big loss,” Straughter said. “Anytime there’s a change, you may get a dip at first, but it levels itself out. We have done a great deal of research before we made the change.”

The district tested the body mass index of third- and fifth-grade students last year and found the results to be alarming. The BMI, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height and measures the amount of body fatness for most people.

“A significant amount of students are at risk,” Straughter said.

Switching to water-only vending is just one step in the Wellness Initiative. The next move, according to Straughter, is the offering of healthier snacks in vending machines via the Snackwise Initiative.

“We are eliminating the high-fat, high-calorie snack,” Straughter said.

The Snackwise Initiative was developed by the local Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and based on the current United States Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines, according to the district. The Initiative ranks snacks that are provided in the vending machine by red, yellow and green. Red labeled snacks are those to choose rarely and green labeled snacks are the best choices. This Initiative, according to Straughter, will take a little longer.

West High School junior Alexandra Patterson isn’t too thrilled with the elimination of her favorite drink, Mountain Dew.

“I think there’s no point,” she said. “We’re going to drink pop no matter if we’re at school or at home. And they don’t put anything in the cafeteria that we wouldn’t put in our bodies anyway.”

Though Patterson is unhappy with the change, many parents are pleased with the water-only vending, according to Straughter.

“Parents have loved it,” he said. “Even from the BMI letters we sent out last year, parents have consistently said, ‘let’s get the sugary stuff off the breakfast line.’”

The staff is also pleased, Straughter added.

“You can’t teach a kid hopped up on sugar,” he said. “There are definitely benefits, other than the warm and fuzzy aspect. You can’t teach a kid who’s not eating well.”


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