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?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
September 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness
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