At the start of 2005, Albuquerque Public Schools began a five-month Wellness Pilot Project. For students at 18 elementary and middle schools involved in the program, the most obvious change will be the snacks sold in vending machines and the hours during which the machines will be available. Elementary school vending machines will only dispense bottled water during the school day. In middle schools, Pepsi's vending machines are limited to water and juice and milk beverages. In all participating schools, vending machine snacks must comply with new nutrition standards—meaning kids will choose from things like pretzels and granola bars rather than tortilla chips and cookies.
Unfortunately, no city high schools would agree to join the pilot program. According to APS Community Nutrition Specialist Jennie McCary, the program's vending machine restrictions were simply "too scary" for high school administrators to voluntarily sign on. In 2002, APS took collected $1.12 million from soda vending machine commissions and bonuses; the vast majority of the money came from high schools. Even though similar programs in Grants, N.M., and in other states had good results, high school administrators weren't willing to take a risk with such a lucrative source of funding. Still, McCary believes that students will buy whatever is in front of them, and that sales will not drastically decline as long as schools are consistent in presenting the same options school-wide.
If the pilot program is successful, it could be implemented throughout the district, whether or not the Competitive Foods in Schools Act passes. "The school board has been pretty receptive to discussion on this issue [competitive foods], and I think as long as we stay within the Pepsi contract restrictions, we can get a district-wide policy implemented within the year," McCary says. By 2006, all school districts nationwide will be required to implement a wellness policy that includes nutrition standards, nutrition education goals and physical activity goals. The APS Pilot Project is an early step towards meeting that goal.