The prevalence of vending machines that stock soda in schools, particularly elementary schools, is concerning for the overall health and well-being of the country. Sodas are made largely with high fructose corn syrup. Fructose activates the dopaminergic reward system more than glucose, and high fructose corn syrup is spiked with extra fructose, far beyond what the labels suggest. Additionally, reinforced behavior, accentuated by the casino-like feel of vending machines, increases consumption in vulnerable populations, such as young children.
The ability of children, not adults, to make these choices, combined with the hedonic reward of dopamine, only increases consumption. Fructose preferentially is stored as fat through first pass hepatic effects, leading to insulin resistance and potentially diabetes.
The per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup — the mainstay of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages — has increased from 38.2 pounds in 1980 to 868 pounds in 1998 (Chou et al., 2004). In 1942, the annual U.S. production of soft drinks was 90 8 oz. servings per person; in 2000, it was 600 servings (Jacobson, 2005). Sodas and other sweetened beverages are readily available in our nation’s schools. Vending machines are placed in almost all of the nation’s middle and high schools (Weicha, Finkelstein, Troped, Fragala, & Peterson, 2006) and are in approximately 40 percent of our elementary schools (Fernandes, 2008). Both school vending machine and fast food restaurant use have been associated with increased intake of sugar sweetened beverages by youth (Weicha et al, 2006). When vending machines are placed in elementary schools, black children are more likely to purchase a soft drink from these machines (39 percent) compared to white children (23 percent) (Fernandes, 2008). Could it be that these machines are becoming vendors of death?