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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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Comments

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No supersweet sodas, but plenty of sweetened sports drinks and plenty of juices, which are sugary on their own.

The ABC News story which I saw said that only sugar-free juices would be sold. Is this not the case?

Personally, I wouldn't have been able to get through high school in the 80s without Coke. (Asparteme makes me ill, so no diet sodas for me.)

Posted by: ZachBG | May 5, 2006 8:17 AM

Darn it, why don't you people allow italics? That first paragraph should be in quotes.

Posted by: ZachBG | May 5, 2006 8:18 AM

ZachBG, I think I heard the same thing on the news that the juices will have very low sugar content. Some juices naturally have sugar in them, but they won't have any sugar added to them before bottling.

When I went to high school, I didn't even think about getting sodas out of the machine. The only soda machine was near the gym area and not too many people even gave it a thought to buy sodas. And considering that my parents weren't that financially well-off, sodas were kind of a luxary.

Posted by: Worker Bee | May 5, 2006 8:37 AM

This article is confusing. First Marc congratulates local parent groups for forcing soda machines out of the schools, while mocking the voluntary agreement recently made to remove sodas during school hours. Then he berates anti-smoking advocates for doing the same thing (with cigarettes) with smoking bans.

So it's ok for one group (parents) to force a soda ban but not OK for anti-smokers to do the same?

One crucial difference - when a child in school drinks a soda he's hurting only himself, not those around him. When someone in a bar or restaurant smokes, he is forcing his smoke on everyone else around him, whether they like it or not. All the other kids in school can still go to school and have a perfectly soda-free existence if they choose to. But smokers ruined the bar and restaurant experience for the rest of us for decades.

Marc, your stance on this doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Hillman | May 5, 2006 9:11 AM

Your screed is misinformed or misleading. What was reported, and what I'm reading now on the Soda Guidelines document, is that in elementary and middle schools only bottled water, milk, flavored milk, and 100% juice with no added sweeteners are allowed. I supposed the flavored milk could be extra-sugary, but I don't know. Only in high school may sports drinks and "light" juices (basically high fructose corn syrup with some real juice added) be sold.

I don't see anything wrong with Coke and Pepsi selling products in schools, if there is nothing harmful or unhealthy in those products. Other companies have contracts to supply the foods and beverages in the cafeterias, why do you believe Coke/Pepsi should be prevented from selling their wares in schools?

http://www.sanluisobispo.com/multimedia/sanluisobispo/archive/sodaguidelines.pdf

Posted by: gimleteye | May 5, 2006 9:11 AM

Sometime back, a poster said something about opening the paper with this question in mind: What's Marc mad about now?

I get a kick out of your outrage, Marc. In fact, most of the time, I share it, but I do worry a little about your blood pressure.

I know we have an obesity crisis, but shouldn't words like "abhorrent" be reserved for things like slavery, sex trafficking, and child molestation?

Posted by: Worried | May 5, 2006 9:12 AM

Me, mad?
Nah, color me bemused, or perhaps exasperated. Peddling soda to kids in school isn't exactly a war crime, but it's not nice, either. It breeds cynicism, and it makes for another generation of fat kids. So while it's fine to rig the soda machines so that kids can't buy Coke at 10 a.m., it's then a bit much to expect us to applaud when those same machines serve up juice and sports drinks. Matter of degree, sure, but the machines wouldn't be there in the first place if the schools hadn't made a deal with the devil: We'll take your soda machines if you give us that pretty new scoreboard for our football field.

And that is what I find most objectionable, the selling of public schools, and therefore of public school kids, to any company that comes along to offer some goodies that the school system should have taken care of if it was really important to the educational program.

Posted by: Fisher | May 5, 2006 9:37 AM

Good point. I'm just happy to see the term
"Hogwash" getting used.

Posted by: J | May 5, 2006 9:46 AM

I agree w/Marc on the selling their souls to the devil, but that's the way America works, right?

Now, let's go into the cafeteria and check out the real culprits of obesity.

Processed Food, Yuk!!!!!

Posted by: Frankey | May 5, 2006 9:53 AM

No matter how you feel about this issue, all I can say is that I sure miss Bill Clinton...

Posted by: dga | May 5, 2006 9:54 AM

Fisher,

Occassionally you might acknowledge that the glass is also half full.

Posted by: Wheaton | May 5, 2006 10:08 AM

but that's the Post these days.

Posted by: You Are a Putz | May 5, 2006 10:11 AM

Re: Hillman

I think Marc is saying that the next step (if they follow the anti-smoking format) is the food police, banning sodas everywhere, special soda taxes (which I believe MoCo tried and repealed years ago), and evil lawyers getting rich from a totally worthless settlement.

Posted by: tallbear | May 5, 2006 10:20 AM

Also, I think this makes little impact in urban and suburban high schools. I know several HS in MoCo have "open lunches" where the students can go off-campus. Quince Orchard HS has a McDonalds across the street!

What probably happens is that kids start bringing in sodas from home and selling to classmates.

Posted by: tallbear | May 5, 2006 10:32 AM

I am in favor of the "soda limitation" in schools - it would be nice to just get rid of it competely and install vending machines that expel ony really healthy drinks. Helps us parents out (we have a responsibility to our children to display and encourage healthy habits in our day to day living). The real problem was stated by Marc - the financial reward reaped by the school is really what's too sweet to turn away from.

Posted by: maggie | May 5, 2006 10:50 AM

Whoa! Back up the bus and get the facts straight before you pipe in passing judgment. From the articles I read there are some errors in your statements.

The agreement eliminates juices like apple and grape juices that are not much better than sodas. Kudos! It does allow juices like OJ that are packed with vitamins and minerals.

It does allow light juices in high school. So things like light OJ from Minute Maid (owned by Coke) or Tropicana (owned by Pepsi) could be sold but these are limited to bottles with no more than 100 calories. Let's see, a 100 calorie, 42% OJ drink or a 275 calorie Cherry Coke... what would you want your 15 yr old daughter to grab on her way to homeroom?

The agreement does not allow anything to go after the school day ends as you imply. It states the same drinks are sold after school day as during school. The only exception would be for things like football games where a Pepsi can still be bought at a concession stand. Many regulations in existence today, such as California's, do allow anything to go (30 min) after the official school day ends.

Finally, it is the first thing I've seen take steps to combat the Supersize me culture that plagues this nation since McD's got rid of the Supersize after the movie with it's namesake. In this agreement, ALL drinks that have any calories, whether they are milk, juice, sports drinks, or light juices have size and calorie restrictions that are age appropriate (the limits are lower for younger kids than high schoolers). It's about time kids learn what a portion size should be!

Posted by: Daniel | May 5, 2006 11:06 AM

"Selling soda to little kids in machines"

I can't be the only one who read that and immediately thought we were storing children in vending machines these days.

The problem with leaving this sort of thing up to the communities is that you have some communities (like MoCo) where the parents have the wherewithal to advocate for their kids at this level - they have the money to take time off work, the time to lobby the school board, etc. - but you also have communities where parents are strapped for time and are too busy working long hours for low pay to spend time lobbying the school board. Why not let someone else advocate for them?

I also honestly don't see a problem with letting the market provide things for schools that the school district is unwilling or unable to provide. If the administration wants something that the school board won't pay for, let them sell out. Seeing as how Coke and Pepsi also bottle water and low-sugar juices, and seeing as how there will be wider regulations on when they can sell soda, I can no longer see a problem with this.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2006 11:32 AM

The thing is, Marc is always mad at (or bemused by) ALL sides. No one gets props from Marc without a side order of criticism.

(That said, I enjoy reading your stuff, Marc!)

Posted by: Mad Marc - Beyond Thunderdome? | May 5, 2006 11:35 AM

As a recent (sort of) high school graduate, I feel a need to toss out another point of view. High school students are gearing up for life away from their parents, either working or going away to college. In both cases, they won't have their parents there to tell them what to do and what not to do, they must rely on what they've been taught as they were growing up. That being said, doesn't the responsibility for teaching children good nutrition lie with the parents? Shouldn't high school students be given credit for having the ability to make their own decisions in such matters? If not, God help us when they move out of the house. In light of all the much more serious choices high school graduates will have to make concerning their health (booze, sex, drugs and cigarettes), soda machines seem a trivial temptation.

Furthermore, I doubt my cross country team would have survived many of our practices without the sports drink machine in the lobby... I also didn't see many of us gaining much weight because of it either.

Posted by: alastor | May 5, 2006 11:48 AM

Mark, I appreciate your outrage as well, but you're wrong that "anything goes" after school lets out for the day. The guidelines state that the policy applies to:

" All beverages sold on school grounds during the regular and extended school day. The extended school day includes activities such as clubs, yearbook, band and choir practice, student government, drama, and childcare / latchkey programs.

This beverage Policy does not apply to school-related events; such as interscholastic sporting events, school plays, and band concerts; where parents and other adults constitute a significant portion of the audience or are selling beverages as boosters."

http://www.ameribev.org/schools/School%20Beverage%20Guidelines%20.asp

Whether the machines should be there at all is, of course, a different question. But it's not like once the bell rings, the kids can run and get a full-sugar, full-caffeine Coke rush.They can if they're at a football game, though.

Posted by: Alicia | May 5, 2006 12:00 PM

I can't understand this article. First off, aren't only sugar-free drinks allowed to be sold? Isn't this the proud effort of parents groups fighting back against big money? Then why mock it? Talk about schizophrenic writing. Marc, you write like an industry hack mocking parents groups. Is that how you feel? If not, then talk to your editor.

Posted by: Don | May 5, 2006 12:13 PM

What about the fact schools are not placing any emphasis on physical education anymore? You can cut out all the sodas at schools but if fat Timmy and Tammy don't get out and exercise their not getting any healthier or less obese. Another fine example of Bill Clinton BS where there's no substance to his hollow ideas.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2006 12:31 PM

"I know we have an obesity crisis, but shouldn't words like 'abhorrent' be reserved for things like slavery, sex trafficking, and child molestation?"

For real! I went to HS in Falls Church in the '80s, where we had a soda machine that wasn't turned on until after school let out, and we were fine with it. We also were able to buy a lot of crap in the cafeteria--my favorite was in October when you cold buy Tastee-Kake pumpkin pies--and again, no problem. There was no obesity problem. I think if HS kids haven't learned by that age about proper eating habits and the necessity of moderation, it's a hopeless cause. Grade school is when you need to focus on that.

Posted by: NYC | May 5, 2006 12:54 PM

I am outraged by this.

I am outraged on behalf of all the poor high school students who are expected to be at school ready to learn at 7 am and no longer have the option of buying a soda to get them going.

Do we prefer the little kiddies to be bringing coffee from home? Face it: until we fix our school hours, high school children (in particular) NEED to a source of caffine to help them stay awake.

I remember, my high school schedule. Every day was front loaded with heavy duty academic classes first thing in the morning. God help my GPA if I couldn't have my morning soda.

Posted by: ASilverman | May 5, 2006 12:55 PM

Discussion is on soda and kids, not insults towards an ex-president.

Be nice, at least someone cares, un-like some i know that live in a white house.

Simular, to the slogan..."just say no"...wow that really impacted the drug community.

Action is always better than words.

Posted by: Frankey | May 5, 2006 1:28 PM

Yes, sodas should not be sold in schools. The fact that the high schools in my county, Prince George's, only requires 1/2 year of PE for all 4 years of high school probably has more to do with the obesity problem I have seen in the halls. The lack of activity buses means that the students have to find their own rides to and from any sports teams they may want to join. Some parents don't have the wherewithall to ferry their children to and from practices, especially those that take place off campus. Perhaps this is the next project a former president can take up.

Posted by: Sue | May 5, 2006 2:14 PM

Mark, while I realize you will never agree with the need for smoke-free workplaces and public places, you could at least characterize the movement accurately. These efforts to protect everyone's right to breathe clean air have been accomplished, not by "legal zealots", but rather by the very sort of grassroots community organizing you advise for getting soda out of schools.

Posted by: Danny McGoldrick | May 5, 2006 2:35 PM

Marc and other readers,

Don't you folks know this is already the case in the state of maryland. Things have been this way for a while. My apologies if someone has already mentioned this.

Posted by: Too Late in Maryland | May 5, 2006 4:10 PM

Well, since we just can't seem to fund schools, yet have no problem wasting billions in Iraq, what else should we expect? We tell our kids that their futures are no big deal to us. Want gym class? Go buy a coke.

Posted by: Iraq Vet | May 5, 2006 4:22 PM

Why stop with sodas? No more cupcakes for birthdays or candy on halloween or sugar cookies at christmas(which they shouldn't be celebrating anyway, except in a neutral, non-denominational way, and they'd better not be calling it "Christ"mas).

And Sloppy Joes with Tater Tots for lunch! Are you kidding me? You're hardening the arteries of an entire generation. Get rid of chicken nuggets, too.

Really, the kids should only eat tofu and rice cakes, with a glass of warm water to wash it down (can't be ice water; they might crunch the cubes and damage their teeth). And they should walk the halls (which need to be padded) in full hockey-goalie gear.

Posted by: random reader | May 5, 2006 4:38 PM

Won't someone please think of the children? Blah, Blah, the children will be fine if we just stop screwing with them. Whatever happened to personal choice and responsibility?

Posted by: hotpants | May 5, 2006 5:25 PM

"Smoking zealots?" ONly a smoker could say that. Nobody due to their employment should be obligated and I mean *obligated* to breathe a ton of cigarettes.

Even if they work in somewhere as sleazy as a bar or worse, a restaurant.

Mr. Fisher, would you want to bring smoking into schools? Smoking dulls kids' hearing and has all kind of health effects. Exposure to second-hand smoke has been positively correlated with ADD and irritability in school age children.

Why should YOU have the right to subject children to smoke in restaurants against their parents' wishes and then insist on tougher prision time for juvenile offenders when those kids finally grow up and pop people like you one?

I grew up with a smoking father. He quit by the time I was 6. He could have quit sooner-- I was born with respiratory problems, but he was addicted and it took time and the combined effort of all the kids to make him quit.

When you whine about smoking zealots, don't think old nosy baggages. Think of people way too young to vote or even cross the street.

My only concern with this is that the kids aren't behind this ban at all. It bespeaks a lack of adequate nutrition education in schools, which I think is a far better lasting remedy than a brief ban. But at least it's a start and gives the schools a chance to lecture at kids without their holding soda cans.


Posted by: Proud to be a Smoking Zealot since Birth | May 5, 2006 6:03 PM

Good grief, YAW!!!

Soda machines should be OUT of the schools. Shame on principals for selling out our children.

Don't tell me that any child, let alone adult, can't get along without these sugary drinks. Guess what?? I did, especially because during the 1960s and 1970s, soda machines were virtually nowhere to found -- definitely not for students and seldom for teachers and administrators.

My personal experience today? I seldom drink sodas and coffee -- perhaps 1-2 sodas a year; besides, don't like that fizz on my stomach. Now talk about upsetting the stomach and adding to distraction from learning.

I've since passed along the same principles to my own grandchilden. But, when the sell-out principal, I have to "de-program" the grandchilden about doing sugar drinks.

Now, about those cookies, pizzas and candy from fundraisers....

Posted by: Anonymous | May 6, 2006 4:15 PM

Good grief, YAW!!!

Soda machines should be OUT of the schools. Shame on principals for selling out our children.

Don't tell me that any child, let alone adult, can't get along without these sugary drinks. Guess what?? I did, especially because during the 1960s and 1970s, soda machines were virtually nowhere to found -- definitely not for students and seldom for teachers and administrators.

My personal experience today? I seldom drink sodas and coffee -- perhaps 1-2 sodas a year; besides, don't like that fizz on my stomach. Now talk about upsetting the stomach and adding to distraction from learning.

I've since passed along the same principles to my own grandchilden. But, when the sell-out principal, I have to "de-program" the grandchilden about doing sugar drinks.

Now, about those cookies, pizzas and candy from fundraisers....

Posted by: Anonymous | May 6, 2006 4:22 PM

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