Variation in Access to Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in Vending Machines Across Rural, Town and Urban High Schools

Sugary drink offerings are easy to find in high school vending machines; soda not so available.

Vending machines in schools—which fall outside federal school lunch program regulation—give youth access to sugar-sweetened beverages. Research has linked consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity.

These investigators wanted to determine if high school student access to vending machine sugar-sweetened beverages varied among urban, town, or rural schools.

Between October 2007 and May 2008, trained coders counted vending machines and vending machine slots in 26 high schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. Coders described the location of the machines, hours of access, and whether there was machine-front advertising. Sugar-sweetened beverages included regular soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks, nondiet iced teas, lemonade, and other sweetened drinks.

Key Findings:

  • Machines were located inside the cafeteria (56%), in the main hallway (17%), or in the hallway by the gym (12%). Most (76%) were accessible any time the school building was open.
  • The most common beverages offered were flavored water (35% of slots), sugar-sweetened drinks (24%), and plain water (22%). Most of the milk offered was 1 percent flavored milk (92%). Soda rarely appeared in school vending machines (2.6%). Town schools offered twice as much access to sugar-sweetened beverage as urban schools.
  • Every school had at least one machine with machine-front advertising, most for waters (69%).

“One possible explanation for the high prevalence of sugar-sweetened beverages in the school vending machines,” the authors suggest, “is the misperception that sports drinks are healthy beverages.”