The European soft drinks industry represented by UNESDA recently announced that it will voluntarily stop the sales of drinks containing added sugars to secondary schools across the European Union, affecting more than 50,000 schools and 40 million young people in 28 countries.
This pledge maintains and expands UNESDA’s existing policy – first introduced in 2006 – not to sell any beverages in primary schools nor advertise beverages to children under 12 in an effort to reduce obesity levels.
What does this mean for vending?
- The policy impacts all retail channels within the school environment including e.g. canteens, tuck shops and vending machines.
- No soft drinks with added sugars to be sold in secondary schools.
- Zero/no added sugar drink variations still allowed.
- Vending machines in secondary schools to be unbranded to reflect the non-commercial aspect of school environments (in force since 2006).
- No soft drinks sold in primary schools (in force since 2006).
- Impacts products, but not machines – operators can continue to place machines in school environments.
The EVA acknowledges that the industry plays a vital role in the fight against obesity and so commends UNESDA on this proactive and voluntary industry step.
However, EVA members feel that a policy supporting an educational choice by secondary school children would potentially be more of a long-term solution. Product restrictions, perhaps in combination with educational health messages placed on vending machines, would also empower secondary school children to make suitable choices for themselves. This policy by UNESDA removes any choice for secondary school children, and does nothing to educate children to the product choices they will be faced with when outside the school gates.
Furthermore, EVA members believe that a policy like this, in order to make a more profound impact on the provision of healthier school environments, should not solely focus on soft drinks but encompass all soft drinks supplied outside a school.
It must also be recognised that wider changes are also required, as children will still be able to access any added sugar soft drinks from outside the school environment. EVA members therefore question whether this policy will lead to any sizable difference to obesity levels in children in reality. EVA members consider that a better method to fight against childhood obesity should be a self-regulation by all sales channels e.g. shops, supermarkets.
Furthermore, the media response to the UNESDA commitment has seemed to lay the provision of full sugar soft drinks to school children solely at the feet of vending machines, and has consequently led to increased calls for vending machine bans in schools. Calls for vending machine bans in a school – or any other – environment, as opposed to product changes, would not be a policy the EVA or the vending industry could support.