NOW with Bill Moyers

Soft Drink Sales at Schools
Starter Activities

The following adaptable classroom activities suggest various approaches for introducing and/or extending learning related to school partnerships with soft drink companies.

1. What drinks at your school do students find most appealing?

Have a tray with small cups filled with of a variety of drinks available at your school, including milk, juice, soft drinks, and water. Circulate among the students and invite them to take a glass. When all students have chosen a drink, tally up how many "takers" there were of each beverage. Ask students why they chose the drink that they did and list and categorize student responses. Explain that all of the beverage options you offered are also available on a daily basis at school. Have students estimate what their typical daily consumption is for each beverage. Have students compare their intake with the charts found in the report (PDF format) Soft Drinks and School-Age Children: Trends, Effects, Solutions and draw conclusions.

2. What are the "best" and "worst" beverage choices at your school?
Provide the class with empty containers for a number of beverages, including milk, water, soda, and other drinks provided in school vending machines and the cafeteria. Consulting food labels, create a side-by-side comparison chart showing total calories, sugar, and vitamins (if applicable) available in that drink. (For guidance on reading food labels, see the FDA's article on The Food Label. See also The Food Pyramid-Food Label Connection.) Ask students to individually rank the list of drinks from "best choice" to "worst choice", based on the data in the chart. Next, have students compare their rankings to a partner's list and discuss any differences in the rankings. Finally, facilitate a class discussion where partnerships share their thinking related to best and worst beverage choices. Have students track their beverage consumption over the next week and write about how/if their drink choices changed after comparing the food labels.

3. How does advertising influence student beverage choices?
Have students count the number of beverage-related brand logos and advertisements encountered for various products over a 24-hour period (including those on school vending machines, book covers, T-shirts, magazine advertisements, television and radio commercials, billboards, in movies and television programming, on buses, in sports programming, etc.) Next, have students list every beverage they drank in the previous 24-hour period. Compile class data and ask students to identify if there are any correlations. Then, discuss popular advertising strategies such as "bandwagon," "celebrity endorsements," "repetition" and others. (Review Food Advertising Strategies for more information.) Then, break students into groups to analyze several advertisements for some of the products available through vending machines at school. Have students individually write a detailed paragraph explaining the role they think advertising plays in influencing their personal beverage choices.

4. Is there a connection between soft drink consumption and poor health?
Across America, obesity is considered an epidemic that increases risk for not just diabetes, but heart disease, and stroke. One in four children are now estimated to be overweight and are more likely to stay fat and less healthy as adults. Are there connections between soft drink consumption and health problems? Have students examine information at the following Web sites and draw conclusions:

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.

About the Author
Cari Ladd is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and Web site development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site, and online professional development services for teachers of mathematics and science. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.