March 16, 2016
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Policies effectively curb availability of sugary drinks in Boston schools

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Recent research in Preventing Chronic Disease reported that districtwide mandatory policies instituted in Boston to regulate the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages effectively reduced student exposure to these beverages.

“Competitive beverages are drinks sold outside of the federally reimbursable school meals program and include beverages sold in vending machines, a la carte lines, school stores and snack bars,” Rebecca S. Mozaffarian, MS, MPH, of the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “Our study is a unique evaluation of a district-level competitive beverage policy 9 years after implementation. We provided evidence for sustainability and effectiveness in ensuring access to healthy competitive beverages.”

The researchers catalogued which competitive beverages were sold in 115 Boston public schools in 2013, after the school district enacted a policy in 2004 to ban all sugar-sweetened competitive beverages. To determine compliance with nutrient standards, beverage data were collected. Accessibility of both noncompliant and compliant beverages was calculated as an indicator of how closely schools were following competitive beverage standards.

Data showed that 89.6% of all the schools studied met the beverage nutrition standards. Of these elementary schools most often met nutrition standards (93.6%), followed by middle schools (84.6%) and high schools (79.2%).

Competitive beverages were not sold in 88.5% of elementary schools and 61.5% of middle schools. Only 37.5% of high schools, however, did not offer competitive beverages. Furthermore, 41.7% of high schools sold only beverages that met nutrition standards.

Mozaffarian and colleagues found that 61.4% of all students did not have any access to competitive beverages at school, and 24.1% of students had access to competitive beverages that met nutrition standards. Overall, 85.5% of all students attended schools that met beverage standards, while only 4% of all students had any access to sugar-sweetened beverages.

“These findings and policy implementation strategies may be particularly encouraging to school districts nationally as they work to comply with Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Smart Snacks in Schools requirements,” Mozaffarian and colleagues wrote. “Our study demonstrates that a comprehensive districtwide competitive beverage policy with implementation support can translate into sustained healthier environments.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.