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NOW with Bill Moyers

Soft Drink Sales in Schools
This lesson is designed for Health classrooms, grades 9-12

  • Lesson Objectives
  • Relevant National Standards
  • Estimated Time
  • Materials Needed
  • Backgrounder for Teachers
  • Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
  • Teaching Strategy
  • Assessment Recommendations
  • Extension Ideas
  • Related Resources
  • About the Author


Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:
  1. Determine how many teaspoons of refined sugars are contained in soda.
  2. Estimate the aerobic physical activity needed to burn off the calories in one soda.
  3. Research data related to the consumption of soft drinks and obesity.
  4. Formulate and defend a position on whether school districts should partner with the soft drink industry to promote soda sales at school.
  5. Work collaboratively with a partner and in small groups.

Related National Health Standards

Standard 1: Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention. Performance indicators for this standard center around identifying what is good health, recognizing health problems, and ways in which lifestyle, the environment, and public policies can promote health.

Standard 2: Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid health information and health-promoting products and services. Performance indicators focus on identification of valid health information, products, and services including advertisements, health insurance and treatment options, and food labels.

Standard 3: Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and reduce health risks. Performance indicators include identifying responsible and harmful behaviors, developing health-enhancing strategies, and managing stress.

Standard 4: Students will analyze the influence of culture, media, technology, and other factors on health. Performance indicators are related to describing and analyzing how one's cultural background, messages from the media, technology, and one's friends influence health.

Standard 5: Students will demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health. Performance indicators relate to interpersonal communication, refusal and negotiation skills, and conflict resolution.

Standard 6: Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance health. Performance indicators focus on setting reasonable and attainable goals and developing positive decision-making skills.

Standard 7: Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health. Performance indicators relate to identifying community resources, accurately communicating health information and ideas, and working cooperatively to promote health.

Standards Resource: ERIC Identifier: ED387483, Publication Date: 1995-10-00, Author: Summerfield, Liane M., Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education, Washington D.C


Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Two-four 45-minute class periods.


Materials Needed


Backgrounder for Teachers

Increasingly, poor eating habits are established in childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 60% of young people eat too much fat, and less than 20% eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Consumption of soft drinks has also increased, placing children further at risk of not getting the nutrients they need for optimal health. Inappropriate consumption of soft drinks can also contribute to tooth decay, obesity, and other health issues like diabetes.

The CDC also reports that 43.0% of elementary, 73.9% of middle/junior high, and 98.2% of senior high schools have a vending machine or a school store, canteen, or snack bar where students can purchase food or beverages. In an effort to raise additional funds for schools, about 200 districts across the country have signed contracts with soft drink companies that provide beverages to their schools. For every drink sold, the school makes a profit. Many schools also receive significant signing bonuses and other perks. Schools say the money earned this way helps to make up where property taxes fall short, and that they are able to flexibly fund activities, building improvements, and other important efforts. Despite such benefits, some believe that such schools are selling out on student health in an effort to make money.

The October 18, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features a segment on soft drink sales in schools. (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.) The segment provides an overview of one school district's contract with a soft drink company and the benefits and challenges that have occurred from such a relationship.

In addition, the NOW Web site features information on both sides of this debate, as well as key statistics related to schools and soft drink consumption.

For more information on various issues related to this topic, please see the Related Resources listing at the end of this lesson plan.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

It is assumed that students know that soft drinks are not included in the USDA Food Pyramid. Students should also understand that public schools are funded primarily through tax dollar allocations that may or may not be enough to meet a school's needs.


Teaching Strategy

Part 1: Understanding the Nutritional Value of Soft Drinks

1. Place the soda cans or bottles and a bag of sugar on a table where the students can see them. Put an empty sandwich bag in front of each soda container. Ask students to estimate the amount of sugar contained in each soda. Use the teaspoon to scoop the correct amount of sugar into the bag in front of each container. (Note: Food labels on soft drinks provide sugar quantities in grams. One teaspoon of sugar = 2.65 grams. Another way to look at it is one gram is a little more than a third of a teaspoon. Since there aren't 1/3 teaspoons, you could use a heaping teaspoon of sugar or a scant tsp to approximate one gram. Also, a tablespoon of sugar is close to 8 grams.) Here are some sugar estimates you may find useful:

  • Cola (12-ounce can) has about 9 - 10 tsp of sugar.
  • Orange soda (12-ounce can) has 13 tsp of sugar.
Hold up the sandwich bag of sugar next to each soft drink the measurement represents. Ask students to estimate how many soft drinks they consume each day or over a week's time and calculate approximately how many teaspoons of sugar go in to their bodies as a result.

2. Next, have students estimate how far they would need to walk to burn off the calories in one can of soda (or the amount of soda they typically consume). A soda contains approximately 150 calories, which would take approximately 30 minutes of brisk walking to burn off for someone who weighs 120 pounds. A helpful tool for this activity is the Fitness Partner Connection Jumpsite's Activity Calorie Calculator. This site allows a person to enter their weight and duration of activity and then the site calculates number of calories burned. While students are completing their calculations, ask them what their bodies do with extra calories that aren't burned off during the day.


Part II: Is Soft Drink Consumption Related to Obesity?

1. Explain to students that in the 1950's, a standard serving of a soft drink was a 6 oz. bottle. The size of soft drink containers has increased steadily since then, and so has consumption. According to the USDA, per capita soft drink consumption has increased 500% over the last 50 years. Some believe that increased soda consumption is an important factor related to the increase in obesity in the U.S. The soft drink industry denies this claim. Tell students that they are going to investigate this issue and decide for themselves whose side of the story they believe.

2. Have students work in partnerships to complete the "Two Sides of the Story" handout, using these recommended Web sites as references:

Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans' Health
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a nonprofit education and advocacy organization that, among other things, seeks to educate the public about nutrition. This article provides statistics and information related to soft drink consumption and its associated dangers.

Soft Drinks and Obesity
The National Soft Drink Association lists studies that show soft drink consumption by school-aged children is not linked to obesity, poor diet quality or lack of exercise.

3. After completing their research, have students report out their findings and discuss them as a class. Ask them to formulate an opinion about whether or not there is a correlation between an increase in the consumption of soft drinks in the United States and the rise in obesity. Students should note their opinion on the handout.


Part III: Should Schools Promote Soft Drink Sales?

1. Ask students if soft drinks should be available at school. Why or why not? Encourage students to use data from their handout to support their arguments. Explain to students that soft drink sales often provide a financial benefit to schools, but that some worry that sales of such beverages compromise the health of students. Show the approximately 15-minute 'NOW with Bill Moyers' segment on soft drink sales at school. (Alternatively, students could read the transcript of this segment.) As students watch (or read) the segment, have them list the pros and cons of a school district entering into a partnership with a soft drink company. If your school is part of such a partnership, point that out to students and explain what financial benefits the school receives as part of that relationship.

2. Stage a debate on whether or not school districts should partner with soft drink companies. Divide the class into groups of four, with partnerships in each group taking opposite sides of the debate. Have students expand their notes from the video (or transcript) by investigating the following Web sites:

NOW with Bill Moyers: The Debate Over Soft Drink Sales at School

Los Angeles Board Bans Soda Sales At Schools

Most States Don't Limit Schools' Business Deals, GAO Says

The Soda Pop Story

"Should Schools Sell Cola Companies Exclusive Rights?

3. Have each partnership use their research notes to debate the issue within their group. Circulate among the groups to monitor the quality of discussion and ensure that students are using data to back their positions.


Part IV: Final Activities

Complete the lesson by choosing one of the following activities:

  • Stage a taste test to help students identify alternative choices to soda such as water, milk and juices.

  • Create children's stories for students in grades 1-6 that encourage healthy food choices and exercise. Have your students base their books on a character that drinks too much soda and needs to make changes. The books can be delivered to elementary school children or students can read their stories to younger classes.

  • Brainstorm alternative ways districts could seek out additional funding.

Assessment Recommendations

  1. Assess the clarity and completeness of student work on the handout from Part II.

  2. Assess the quality of research notes and debate arguments from Part III.

  3. If assigned, grade the children's books for content, conventions, style and readability.

Extension Ideas

1. Have students survey their classmates on consumption of soft drinks and draw conclusions from the results.

2. Invite a physician, dietician or dentist to be a guest speaker on the short and long term effects of heavy soft drink consumption.

3. Visit the Web sites of major soft drink manufacturers and evaluate the programs in place that support education and initiatives such as the arts.

4. Invite a school board member or district administrator to speak to the class about how school districts are funded. Include in the discussion alternative ways (outside of tax dollars) that school districts seek funding.

5. Have students assess how marketing influences their beverage choices. Evaluate beverage advertisements and research marketing strategies used by companies to target youth.


Related Resources

Below are some sites that provide useful information related to this lesson's topic. The NOW site has additional Web site recommendations that may be of interest.

These resources are provided in addition to the helpful Web sites listed in the Teaching Strategy section of this lesson plan.

Battle Royale: Is Soda Pop Being Demonized in the Fight Against Obesity?
This May 23, 2002 article from Metroactive News reports on proposals that tax soft drink sales to raise money for schools, ban soda sales at school, and otherwise target junk food.

Fact Sheet: Food and Beverages Sold Outside of the School Meal Programs
A wealth of statistics provided by The Center for Disease Control's School Health Policies and Programs Study.

Milk Vying With Soda for Pupils' Attention
This September 30, 2001 article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells about the dairy industry's efforts to compete with the soft drink industry by putting milk vending machines in schools and improving marketing techniques in an effort to increase milk consumption.

"Should Schools Sell Cola Companies Exclusive Rights?
An NEA online debate discussing the pros and cons of school system contracts with soft drink companies.

Soda Pop Increases Risk of Bone Breaks
This June 15, 2000 article from the Harvard University Newspaper cites research related to over consumption of soft drinks and the connection to bone fractures and osteoporosis.

Soft Drinks and Obesity
The National Soft Drink Association lists studies that show soft drink consumption by school-aged children is not linked to obesity, poor diet quality or lack of exercise.

Soft drinks and School-Age Children: Trends, Effects, Solutions
A document, created by the North Carolina School Nutrition Action Committee, providing information and statistics related to soft drinks and health issues, strategies used by two school districts to promote healthy beverage choices by students, tips for how parents and the community can encourage healthy beverage consumption, and more.

Soft Drinks Undermining Americans' Health: Teens Consuming Twice as Much 'Liquid Candy' as Milk
This 1998 press release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) lists statistics and other information about soft drink consumption. See also the CSPI reference in Part II of this lesson plan.

Take Charge of Your Health - A Teenagers Guide to Better Health
The National Institutes of Health offers information for teens related to healthy eating and how to increase physical activity.

Team Nutrition: Fun for Students
This site from the USDA provides games for younger students and resources for all related to good nutrition.


About the Author
Donna DeTommaso-Kleinert is an elementary physical education teacher at Hatfield Elementary School in the North Penn School District Lansdale, Pa. She has participated on the writing team for the Pennsylvania State Health and Physical Education Standards and coordinates and presents the new teacher induction program. She has been in the teaching profession for 20 years with experiences in elementary and secondary health and physical education and also as a learning coordinator of all the special area curricula. Presently she is enrolled in a curriculum and instruction program in the Department of Kinesiology at Temple University. Her proudest accomplishments have come from motherhood and marriage.