Parents are encouraged to examine beverage vending machine contents at their children’s back-to-school events.

Several Santa Barbara County school districts have already implemented state requirements regarding drinks sold in local schools. By 2009, all public schools in California may sell only water, low or nonfat milk, fruit or vegetable drinks with at least 50 percent real juice, and electrolyte replacement beverages that contain no more than 42 grams of added sweetener per 20-ounce serving.

Sodas, “fruit” drinks high in sugar and low in fruit, energy drinks and other beverages no longer will be permitted. Studies have shown these high-calorie drinks to be a major contributing factor to childhood obesity.

Just this week, Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction issued new state regulations clarifying laws governing foods and beverages sold on public school grounds. Among other requirements, the new regulations limit the amount of sugar contained in milk sold on school grounds.

“The schools are working conscientiously to replace unhealthy drinks with healthy alternatives,” said Scott McCann, county public health education director. “Schools face increasing pressure to raise money, and selling drinks is one way they generate funds. But studies have shown that water and other healthy drinks sell as well as unhealthy ones.”

While touring a school, see if vending machines are present, what drinks they contain and what ingredients the drinks contain. To see if a school’s beverages comply with the law, check out the Project LEAN school foods calculator by clicking here, or call a local Network for a Healthy California representative at 805.346.7372 in North Santa Barbara County or 805.681.4757 in the southern county.

Michele Mickiewicz is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.