The Soda in Schools Swindle
With much fanfare and not a little cynicism, the soda industry, Bill Clinton, and more lawyers than you would ever want to count are congratulating themselves and patting themselves on the bellies about how they have won a battle in the war against obesity by banning soda from schools across the nation.
Except that, as in most of these so-called voluntary agreements by industries that make socially objectionable products, the real deal is far less than the hype that surrounds its announcement.
Don't expect those soda machines that paid for your local school's scoreboard or athletic field to be hauled away anytime soon, if ever. The deal doesn't shut down the machines or prevent the Coke and Pepsi companies from selling their wares to your kids. It merely limits the hours and types of drinks that can be sold. No Coke, Diet Pepsi. No supersweet sodas, but plenty of sweetened sports drinks and plenty of juices, which are sugary on their own. But after school ends for the day, anything goes, so kids involved in after-school activities or evening programs can get anything they'd like out of the machines.
The lawyers and advocacy groups that have been moving toward lawsuits against the makers and distributors of sodas and other very fattening foods claim that none of this progress would have been made without the threat of a courtroom confrontation. Hogwash: In many places, state and local governments already have restrictions considerably tighter than what the industry has now agreed to, and those restrictions stemmed not from any legal threats, but from grassroots action by concerned parents taking their case to their elected officials.
This is an important distinction because the last thing we need now is for the legal zealots who drove smoking out of bars and restaurants to try to turn people's decisions about what to eat into fodder for court-imposed bans.
Selling soda to little kids in machines in school is nothing short of abhorrent. It encourages bad habits, it represents a massive sellout by educators to the soda companies, and it interferes with parents' responsibility to set their own kids' eating regimen. But none of that implies that fattening foods should be banned or that it's any of the government's business how sweet Coca-Cola decides to make its products.
Bill Clinton called it "courageous" for the soda industry to bar itself from selling its products with the highest caloric content to kiddies. No, it's just those companies correctly reading the market and deciding to protect their sales to adults by making a gesture toward limiting sales to kids.
When those same companies pull their machines out of schools entirely, then we can start talking about whether anyone is being courageous.
By Marc Fisher |
May 5, 2006; 7:29 AM ET
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