Standing Up for Healthy Options in HoCo School Vending Machines

Our goal at Howard County. Unsweetened. is to make it easier for parents and kids to make better beverage choices. Plain and simple.

When we launched the campaign in December 2012, our mission was welcomed and supported by leaders across the county, including:

  • Dr. Renee Foose, Superintendent of Public Schools
  • Dr. Maura Rossman, County Health Officer
  • Christina Delmont-Small, Howard County mother and President of the PTA Council of Howard County

County Executive Ken Ulman also attended our launch event to support HoCo Unsweetened and to announce an Executive Order to provide only healthy beverage options in county government facilities.

This Executive Order marks great progress with our initiative – replacing sodas and other sugary drinks with healthier drinks (like the 300+ drinks we’ve identified with our Better Beverage Finder) is a big step toward making better beverages more accessible to Howard County. The order did not apply to Howard County public schools, but in May of this year, Superintendent Foose announced that all food and drinks available in student-accessible vending machines would meet Institute of Medicine standards for the 2013 school year, a move we applauded. School vending machines can be a big temptation for students and a source of frustration for parents who work hard to reinforce the importance of better beverages for their families.

Recently, a local Howard County mom named Deborah noticed the vending machines in her son’s school still contained all unhealthy choices. She sent the following letter to the school’s principal:

My husband and I attended the Back-to-School Night recently. We were very impressed with the teachers and the presentation, and were happy to join both Boosters and the PTA while there. However, what we weren't impressed with were the sodas and less-than-healthy snacks still being sold in the snack machines. Our Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has lately focused on trying to improve the quality of the food and drink being sold in our schools. I serve healthy food at home...but my son, being a typical teenager, prefers soda and high-calorie, low-nutrient "junk food" when it is available.  He is a walker, so has access to the machines whenever he has money in his pocket.

My dad had his first heart attack at age 42, and was dead at age 50. The food he ate played a key role in his death. Our kids' life-expectancies are predicted to be shorter than our own, due to their diet. Can our high school step up and serve as the role model for our kids that it should be, with respect to the snacks it sells? The students are learning important things about diet and nutrition while in health class – why is there such a disconnect between the education you provide and the food you are "pushing" on them, for profit?



The principal responded to say that healthier vending machines were on their way and would be in the school shortly.

We think Deborah’s overarching point is a good one: Howard County schools can help reinforce the diet and nutrition lessons they teach at school and HoCo parents teach at home, but we need to ensure that the new standards are being implemented.

So parents, the next time you visit your kids’ school, check out what’s being offered in the vending machines. And if all you see is sugary drinks and junk food, consider reaching out to your son’s or daughter’s principal, and ask where the healthy options are. Make your voice heard! Let’s get Unsweetened!

-Your friends at Howard County. Unsweetened.








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