Seven Fairfax high schools to ban sugary sodas from vending machines

Sugary sodas will be removed from vending machines at seven Fairfax County high schools this school year as the administration tests a possible ban on sodas throughout the school system.

The pilot program will remove high-calorie sodas from machines at Chantilly, Falls Church, Langley, Marshall and West Potomac high schools along with Lake Braddock Secondary and the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. In all, about 30 percent of the county’s high school students will not be able to purchase sugary sodas at school.

Soda machines in teachers’ lounges won’t be affected.

“The goal behind this is to ensure that students are learning ways to be healthy throughout their lives,” said school board member Ryan McElveen (At Large), who championed the initiative. “Obesity and the health issues raised by soda consumption has been something we’ve been concerned with.”

The ban will further expand the school system’s efforts to curb sugar intake among teenagers. Currently, vending machines at all high schools in Fairfax are available to students only after the school day has ended.

Instead of grabbing a Mountain Dew, Sprite or Dr Pepper, students at the seven schools will be able to quench their thirst with diet soda, iced tea, V8 products, flavored water and low-calorie Gatorade. The school system will remove 47 machines and replace them with 37 that will dispense only the more healthful alternatives.

“Over the coming year, we will see what are the most popular and weigh the potential of phasing out soda altogether,” McElveen said.

It is unclear when a systemwide ban could take effect, McElveen said. Last year, the school system signed a five-year contract with Coca-Cola and Pepsi to have machines in schools.

Additionally, an all-out ban would affect school’s budgets: Half of all revenue from the machines goes back to the schools.

A long-term ban might not be financially sustainable, McElveen said, because the school system gets tens of thousands of dollars through the soda-machine deal. He noted that Fairfax’s new superintendent, Karen Garza, previously served in a Texas school district where sodas were banned.

Montgomery County schools decided to keep all vending machines off until 30 minutes after the end of the school day this year in an effort to keep students from loading up on snacks and treats before they head home.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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