Pepsi generation

If high school students in Roseville haven’t yet discovered the joy of cola, they are sure to be sold soon enough, thanks to a lucrative exclusive marketing deal between the Roseville Joint Union High School District and soda giant Pepsi.

The deal gives Pepsi exclusive placement rights in the district’s schools in exchange for about $1.2 million in revenue over the next five years. The move angered some parents and health advocates, and got the attention of activists opposed to the ever-creeping commercialism in public schools.

District deputy superintendent Rich Strickland defended the district’s action, saying that the deal would not lead to additional vending machines or advertising on campus.

“We have had soft drinks on campus since 1978. This contract simply consolidates all of our other contracts in the district,” said Strickland. He added that the agreement also allows school officials to electronically “lock” the machines during class time, and allows for a greater number of juice beverages and water.

He objected to the notion that students were being treated as captive consumers: “These are high school students. They are intelligent and can make intelligent decisions about what they drink.”

The agreement is expected to raise about $1.2 million for the district. It includes a $75,000 signing fee, an additional $40,000 each year as well as a 50 percent commission on all beverages sold.

While teen consumption of soft drinks is rising, partly as a result of increased marketing in schools, new studies suggest that cola craving is even worse for kids than previously thought.

A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that ninth- and 10th-grade girls who regularly drank soda were three times as likely to break bones than those who abstained. The scientists believe that the phosphoric acid found in many popular sodas interferes with the body’s ability to use calcium.

Besides the nutritional concerns, the deal raises ethical questions about companies marketing products to students who are basically sitting ducks for advertising.

“Advertising in schools takes advantage of a captive audience. The district is selling access to its students. We don’t think districts should sell their kids to private companies,” said Dylan Bernstein with the Bay Area-based Center for Commercial Free Public Education, a group that opposes these kinds of exclusive marketing contracts.

Despite Strickland’s assertion that no new advertising will be allowed, Bernstein said that such contracts almost always lead to an increase in marketing to students.

“Every time administrators say they have a unique contract,” Bernstein said. “And every time you end up seeing more advertising and more machines.”

Roseville’s contract specifically limits any additional advertising, only allowing Pepsi to replace existing scoreboards. But nothing in the contract appears to prohibit Pepsi from seeking to place additional machines on the campus.