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Posted by on Aug 21, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Bubbling Controversy To Limit Soda In Schools

The controversy has been bubbling and bubbling: unlike 20 or 30 years ago, soda is served and sold in schools — and kids keep getting fatter and fatter. Is readily available and highly popular soda part of the reason?

So now, the beverage industry, tired of taking so many pops on the head, has announced guidelines that would ban kids’ cherished Dr. Pepper, Coke, Pepsi, 7Up and myriad other brands from elementary schools and reduce the fizzy drinks in others.

One recent catalysit is the American Academy of Pediatrics which urged that “sweetened drinks” be axed from schools. A Washington Post editorial notes that across the nation some schools have indpendently been doing just that, and writes:

Reacting to this concern, the American Beverage Association, the industry’s trade group, issued guidelines this week for member companies about soda sales in schools. The guidelines are a modest improvement, particularly in middle schools, where under the nonbinding rules soda machines would be turned off during school hours. For the most part, though, the guidelines don’t change the status quo; they seem to be aimed more at fending off additional restrictions. They are, you might say, more fizz than substance.

The new guidelines would apply different rules to elementary, middle and high schools. Sales of soda and other sweetened drinks would be prohibited in elementary schools; only water and 100 percent juice would be allowed. That’s great, except that is already the situation almost everywhere. The biggest and most welcome change would come, as noted above, in middle schools.

Unfortunately, that policy of no soft drinks during the school day wouldn’t extend to high schools. Instead, the only restriction for high schools would be a requirement that beverage vending machines set aside half their slots for healthier beverages. That’s not adequate. Moreover, under the industry’s approach, sugar-filled sports drinks would be considered healthy beverages even though they are little more than soda without the bubbles. Far preferable would be to simply ban sugared sodas and similar drinks from school vending machines, at least during the school day.

Derrick Z. Jackson, in a column titled “Why Obesity Is Winning,” points out that this is part of a larger, big fat problem where industries have the support of — you guessed it — members of Congress (who you must remember need corporate contributions to win re-election). In the case of the soda bans he writes:

In an effort to avoid full-scale bans, the American Beverage Association announced this week that it recommends that elementary schools eliminate soda, that middle schools withhold full-sugar soda until after school and that high school vending machines be no more than 50 percent soda. That is a smokescreen to distract us from the overall annual advertising assault of $11.2 billion by the food, beverage, candy, and restaurant industry on our children, teens, and young adults. That amount rivals what President Bush spends on No Child Left Behind.

Delaware Online asks a key question:

To their credit, many Delaware school districts have had their own restrictions for some time. Colonial School District doesn’t have any soda vending machines. Capital School District, however, has a $652,000 contract with Coca-Cola that has produced enough income to pay for Dover High School’s state-of-the-art artificial turf on the football field.

Many schools either restrict the types of beverages in vending machines or don’t turn on machines until after regular school hours. Others sell only water and tea.

Overall, Delaware schools don’t come off as badly as other places. But the beverage association policy change and school self-policing avoids the larger question: Why do we need any beverage vending machines in the hallways?

The answer seems to be: vending machines for kids have evolved (or is it “intelligent design?”) from being unusual to commonplace for reasons of convenience and finance. Many of the first one seemed to sell juices. Then the soda machines got a foothold — and finally the whole foot.

Amber Davison writes on the WTAP website:”All vending machines at Marietta High School’s cafeteria sell only water, juice and sports drinks.However, Principal Michael Elliott says the machines selling soda are still their biggest moneymakers.”

Several companies including Pepsi immediately announce support of the new policy. AM Online’s Vending Market watch added this comment on the controversy and policy:

Editor’s Insight: This site noted yesterday that the American Beverage Association’s position will have little bearing on appeasing soft drink industry critics. Nor will this announcement of support by Pepsi Cola Bottling Co.; the major soft drink companies have never aggressively placed soda in elementary schools or even middle schools. The big soft drink companies have already announced their intentions of emphasizing healthier offerings in high schools.

The big soft drink companies would make better use of their time highlighting the ways in which they support physical activities in schools, and keep driving home the message that more active lifestyles are needed to improve childrens’ health.

So it may be a while before there’s a definitive cap on the controversy over soda and schoolkids.

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