Banning All Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in Middle Schools

Children’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), such as soda, sports drinks and high-calorie fruit drinks, has soared. Because SSB consumption is associated with youth obesity and kids spend so much time in school, many states have passed laws to limit access to and consumption of these drinks during the school day.

This research compares the impact of different state policies (no policy; banning only soda; banning all SSBs) on in-school access to and overall consumption of SSBs, both in- and out-of-school. It relies on data collected in 5th grade, and again in 8th grade, from 6,898 public school students in 40 states, as part of a broader and longer longitudinal national study.

Key Findings:

  • Banning only sodas did not have an impact. In states that banned only sodas and states that had no school beverage policy, two-thirds of 8th-grade students had access to SSBs at school; slightly fewer than 30 percent purchased them at school.
  • There were significant reductions in states that banned all SSBs and allowed only milk, water and 100 percent juice—52 percent of 8th-grade students had access to SSBs; 20 percent purchased them at school. According to the authors, more research is needed to determine whether schools’ lack of compliance with state laws, inaccurate student reports or other factors contributed to wide availability of SSBs in states with such bans.
  • Regardless of which grade they were in and which, if any, state SSB policy was in effect at their school, the frequency of student consumption of sugary drinks remained about the same, with about 85 percent of students reporting weekly consumption and about one-third reporting daily consumption.
  • For those students who reported losing access to SSBs at school between 5th and 8th grades, there was a slight decrease in the percentage who reported consuming SSBs infrequently (at least once weekly), but a slight increase in the percentage who reported consuming one or more SSBs per day. Because the study analyzed the number of students who reported daily consumption and not the actual number of servings consumed each day, the authors cannot conclude whether students’ average daily servings increased or declined.

Policies that ban all sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in school do reduce consumption in school, but not overall, according to this study, suggesting efforts to improve nutrition must go beyond the school setting to be effective.