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Schools Sans Sodas

Substantial headway has been made lately in getting sugary (and high-fructose corn syrup-laden) sodas out of schools.

But that might not make much difference in kids' overall soda consumption.

Both pieces of news came across my desk as I was writing today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about school lunch nutrition. Together they demonstrate how daunting a goal it is to try to change eating and drinking habits -- other people's and our own.

The good news, coming from the American Beverage Association, is that sweetened soft drinks accounted for less than 25 percent of beverages sold in schools last year; that's down from 40 percent in 2004. The ABA has been working with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation (as in former President Bill) to affect a shift toward healthier drinks -- those with fewer calories and offered in smaller portions than your standard can of pop -- in schools. Bottled water has filled much of the gap, moving from 13 percent of the beverages sold in schools in 2004 to almost 28 percent last year.

But some question whether such successes are actually prompting kids to consume less soda. A study conducted by researchers at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, and published in the September Journal of the American Dietetic Association looked at more than 10,000 fifth-grade kids' self-reported soda consumption over a week's time. Soft drinks were sold in about 40 percent of the 2,300 schools represented, and about a quarter of the kids who had access to soft drinks in school took advantage of that access, drinking about half their total sodas at school. The researchers found that limiting soft-drink availability at school spelled only a 4-percent decrease in kids' overall soda consumption.

The data was from 2004, two years before the federal government's requirement that all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program develop and implement a wellness policy governing the availability of foods of limited nutritional value went into effect. As this article notes, school systems are still struggling to fully implement those policies, which often limit access to candy and other sweets in addition to soda.

It's a tough time to be running a school nutrition program, though: As food costs shoot sky high, school budgets -- like our home budgets -- have a hard time keeping up, especially when schools aim to offer healthy (which usually means more expensive) food choices. Traditionally, schools have used revenues from the sale of junky food like soda to offset the expense of providing healthful school lunches.

Do you know what your kids really eat -- and drink -- at school? Are sodas available there? Do you allow your kids to buy them? And if sodas aren't for sale, do you try to support that initiative by limiting sodas at home?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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This whole soda ban is a joke. The schools just replace the drinks with "juice" or Gatorade/Powerade. The kids are still receiving way too much sugar in an easily consumed item.

The schools should return to water during anytime of the day and sugary items only available during lunch. If kids want sugary stuff afterschool ... they can bring it themselves.

Posted by: concerned mom | September 30, 2008 9:29 AM | Report abuse

In 2006, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, established the School Beverage Guidelines that limit portion sizes and reduce the number of beverage calories available to children throughout the school day. Since voluntarily agreeing to implement these guidelines in 2006, the beverage industry has made tremendous progress with a 58 percent reduction in the total number of beverage calories shipped to schools.

The study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association looked at beverage consumption from 2004 in elementary schools only. In reality, elementary schools make up a very small percentage of the market for school beverages – 6 percent of all shipments compared to 17 percent for middle schools and to 77 percent for high schools.

Outside of the home environment, the school environment is one where young people spend a majority of their day and have the potential to consume more calories than they expend. The Alliance recognizes that childhood obesity prevention requires a multi-faceted approach. That is why the School Beverage Guidelines are part of a larger strategy within the Alliance Healthy Schools Program that aims to impact positive changes throughout the school building, including increasing physical activity opportunities before, during and after school, providing quality health education, offering healthy school meals, and encouraging school staff to model healthy behaviors as well.

Ginny Ehrlich
Executive Director
Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Posted by: Ginny Ehrlich | September 30, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I have worked in a school for over 10 years and before that my children went through Fairfax County schools. I have been trying all those years to get better food in the cafeterias. The argument I was always given was that the schools offered good choices, and my reply has always, yes, but the choices you offer are not healthy. Point being that if you give a child the 'choice' between a slice of pizza and a green salad guess which one they're going to pick? All choices in the cafeteria should be healthy choices. I feel that pizza, french fries and cookies (which is what you see on 90% of the children's trays) are not healthy options and should be eliminated all togeher. Please keep up your good work reporting on school lunches and I invite you to Fairfax County to see what choices they offer their students.

Posted by: Jane Monaco | October 1, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

It makes no sense to me to take sodas out of school. The teachers have access to them. Soda is not a priority when you have a lunchroom full of flies that land on the kids food. The flies are knocked away and that food is then put on the childs plate. Not only that, a roach was found in my sons beans. (A whole roach) They cafeteria workers did not take that pan off the food line, instead they kept serving from it. I complained and was told that I could visit the kitchen and look around anytime I wanted to. A couple of days later I was up there and from out of nowhere there was these huge signs that said...absolutely no one allowed beyond this point. Lunch Room Employees only. I think OSHA needs to pay a visit to these schools, all schools, random visits without notice. The Health Departments are useless. The State, well, you don't bother them either. AND THEY ALL COMPLAIN ABOUT COKES AND HIGH SUGAR CONTENT, NOT THE ROACHES, FLIES AND FILTH AT WEST MARION. Isn't that a hoot.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 2, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

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