Sodas Banned or Restricted In Schools, But Health Advocates Brand Industry Move As a Publicity Stunt

Finally, after months of angry, cautionary rhetoric and mounting pressure from health advocates and "obesity warriors," the soft drink industry announced plans to ban sugary soda from elementary and middle schools and to restrict sales in high schools.

It’s about time!

But before you heartily applaud the entire move, make sure you read on, because this new policy has a number of major flaws and heavy opposition from health advocates, who brand it as a shameless publicity stunt on the part of the soda industry, which simply can’t be trusted.

Anyhow, as I reported earlier this month, the soft drink industry has been mulling over taking such a shift in soda-in-the-schools strategy for a while now.

But, let’s face it, folks, the industry simply had no choice given the fact that drinking empty-calorie, sugary, caffeinated drinks are increasingly being singled out as a reason for the fact that some 9 million school kids aged 6 to 19 are overweight.

Clearly, companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsico realized the futility and bad PR value to continually fighting proposals to regulate soda sales in the schools. In fact, soft drink companies have become quite notorious for their incredibly intense lobbying of lawmakers and school officials to keep these nutrition-lacking, sweet drinks in the stomachs of school kids. (In spite of their opposition, in state legislatures, 38 states have considered school nutrition bills, with at least 15 laws have been enacted.)

The American Beverage Association — the group that used to be more appropriately called the National Soft Drink Association, because it represents 20 companies comprising some 85 percent of school vending beverage sales — issued a statement late Tuesday. The story was widely picked up by CNN, The New York Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets.

Note two interesting tidbits about the policy change:

  • Dissension was limited. In fact, the soft drink industry trade group’s board of directors unanimously approved the policy. (Smart move.)
  • What’s more, the soda group even plans to run print and broadcast advertising to educate the public about the new policy. (Another important step but it doesn’t go far enough.)

(Please continue reading to learn about flaws to the new policy and the reaction of The Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the Center for Informed Food Choices.)

Although I’m pleased by the soda industry’s move, I believe that it falls short in a number of ways. But first let’s outline the specific changes under the new policy:

  • Elementary Schools: Only water and 100 percent juice will be sold
  • Middle Schools: Only "nutritious and/or lower calorie beverages, such as water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks, no-calorie soft drinks, and low-calorie juice drinks. No full-calorie soft drinks or full-calorie juice drinks with five percent or less juice until after school; and
  • High Schools: A variety of beverage choices, such as bottled water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks, and juice drinks. "No more than 50 percent of the vending selections will be soft drinks."

If you look at what beverages are allowed under the new policy, you need to realize that what the soft drink industry considers "nutritious and/or low-calorie" really aren’t.

  • Drinks billed as "100 percent juice" aren’t all that healthy, according to experts. As for juice drinks, they often contain lots of sugars, as well as empty calories.(A number of physicians and nutritionists I interviewed for my upcoming book, SUGAR SHOCK!, warn against juices and juice drinks. Rather, they’re proponents, as I am, of the whole fruit.)
  • Sports drinks tend to contain a lot of sugars as well — and how they can be deemed nutritious is a joke.
  • Low-calorie soft drinks which are filled with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose can in no shape, form or fashion be considered healthy or nutritious. (I’ve talked previously about how diet sodas have been linked to weight gain, not loss.)

Moreoever, I think the new policy, while a good first step, is not nearly as comprehensive enough:

  • First off, why are elementary schools the only ones banning soda entirely? This should be extended to all schools.
  • Rather than just informing the public about soda changes in the schools, the soft drink trade group should embark upon an extensive, expensive campaign to educate children about good nutrition.
  • Finally (but not surprisingly), there’s simply no recognition of the fact that soft drinks not only provide no nutritive value, but drinking them in excess could lead to obesity, diabetes, hypoglycemia and many more health hazards.

Reaction from Health Advocates

As noted previously, health groups are taking the new policy with a grain of salt.

  • The Center for Science in the Public Interest‘s nutrition director Margo G. Wootan calls the move to pull soda out of elementary schools "an encouraging step from an industry that, up to now, has thrwarted angry parents who want to get soda out of their kids’s chools." Wootan also agreed with me that "soda also has no place in America’s high schools and middle schools, which are much bigger markets for soda companies." The CSPI also noted that the soda industry has "aggressively, and shamefully, taken advantage of the precarious financial position of many public school systems."

  • The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood issued a statement calling the move "no more than a shameless public relations stunt designed to deflect mounting criticism" against soda manufacturers. "The soft drink industry has repeatedly demonstrated that it cannot be trusted," said Dr. Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and author of Consuming Kids.  "Dr. Linn noted that Coca-Cola claims it does not market to children under twelve, yet there are Coke toys for children as young as two and Coke’s product placement is ubiquitous on American Idol, a top-rated show for children 2-11 and added, `This is an industry that makes empty promises in order to keep targeting children with empty calories.’"

  • Meanwhile, the director of the Center for Informed Food Choices found it "ironic that that ABA [the soda group] would choose to make this announcement at the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting, since its members lobby against any state bills to get sodas out of schools." Michele Simon, director of the Center for Informed Food Choices, pointed out that in the past past year alone, such bills in Connecticut, Arizona, Kentucky, and New Mexico were either killed or watered down thanks to lobbying by soft drink companies. "If the ABA and its members were serious about addressing childhood obesity, they’d pledge to immediately stop undermining the effort of local nutrition advocates."

It’s time for you to speak out! Tell us your thoughts. What do you think about this new policy frm the soda industry?

Is this just a shameless publicity stunt or a legitimate effort to help solve the childhood obesity problem?

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Connie Bennett is the bestselling author of Sugar Shock (Berkley Books) and Beyond Sugar Shock (Hay House), one or both of which have been praised by Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman and many others. Connie is now dedicated to discovering and sharing fast, super-simple, science-based secrets to Crush Your Cravings. (Her renewed interest in this topic began in late 2012, when she was walloped by Crazy Carb Cravings after losing her mother . She is now completing her next book, Crush Your Cravings On the Go™ and creating the companion Crush Your Cravings System.

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8 thoughts on “Sodas Banned or Restricted In Schools, But Health Advocates Brand Industry Move As a Publicity Stunt

  1. Now that we know that pregnant women, people with high blood pressure and anyone under stress or with heart problems should not drink caffeine, and those with Pre-Diabetes, Diabetes, and obesity should not consider drinking down 16 teasoons of sugar, why are these products not totally banned?
    My new step-son discovered he like bottled water with a little lemon since his new middle school doesn’t sell sodas.He never drank water before, either. He is UNDERWEIGHT, but I believe that sugary drinks have filled him many times, when he should he eaten more solid food.I agree that juice drinks are bad too. Let’s give them 100% juice and water. They can have junk foods/drinks at home. Limit their choices until they can make better ones on their own.

  2. I think the only drink schools should sell is water. And not sweetened water, just plain old, junk-free water. No sports drinks, no supposedly 100% fruit juices, no soda at any time children of any age, right through high school.
    IMO, the larger issue is that we don’t fund schools as much as we should, leaving school administrators scrambling for money and thus scrounging to get it from unsuitable sources like soda companies. Perhaps if we provided enough money to schools, this wouldn’t be an issue. That wouldn’t stop soda companies from selling to kids via other means, but it would at least make schools soda-free zones.

  3. Another flaw not mentioned in your article is that even the limit in high schools of soda pop in vending machine slots to 50% is meaningless, since, as long as the vending machine is regularly stocked, the soda pop inventory may turn 10 or 20 times while the water and milk just sit there in the machine. It’s probably impractical to limit actual sales to 50%, anyway.

  4. I just want to say that I think that milk should definitely be served in schools from K to 12. Everybody needs some milk every day for the nutritional value and calcium. Also, I think that bottled water should be offered to those that are lactose intolerant. Fruit juices aren’t that healthy either because it makes the body produce a lot of insulin at once which isn’t good for you on a daily basis. And especially if you are over-weight.
    Growing up our schools only offered milk at lunch. There were no vending machines and we never got pizza, hot dogs, burgers, or any type of “fast food”. We had regular hot lunches with vegetables and some type of meat with either cornbread or a roll. I know some kids did bring their lunch but there were certain foods that they could not bring. There were hardly any “fat” kids. And of course, we had at least an hour of P.E. everyday with either volleyball, kickball, or softball or just general recess of running and playing on the swings and monkey bars.
    It is just my opinion but I do not think schools should serve soft drinks or junk food at school. Milk and water are both better choices.
    Thank you.

  5. It’s about time these large corporations take responsibility for what they’re “pouring” into our children. They have all the research so they are fully aware of what it does to us. Bravo! Now let’s see how many companies follow their footsteps — how about a challenge here — don’t you think one is in order?
    Let’s challenge companies to improve their products to be not only truly healthy but organic too! Who’s game?
    Not only is it the parents’ responsibility to educate our children about healthy food choices, but also the school’s responsibility to provide a healthy lunch to our children. I mean our taxes are also paying for lunch so it’s time we have a voice in what is being served….
    …It’s time for parents to place pressure on the public school system to start serving healthy meals to our kids. Of course, you can pack your child’s lunch, but if you’re already paying for it, then why not get the best?!
    With what we know about health today, there’s no excuse to be serving these bad processed foods. Kids are going to opt for the latest fad/colorful more often than not so if the manufacturers of food/drink products start making healthy choice fads and advertise them as they do their unhealthy ones, our kids will choose them — I mean I chose what was bad for me when I was a kid because it looked so cool so what’s the difference now? There isn’t one.
    There is a great resourse I saw on the movie “Supersize Me” – Natural Ovens Bakery that the public schools should consult for revamping their menu. They cited a school for children with severe behavior problems that served their products and after eating healthy food, these kids behaved better than the kids in the regular public schools! How wonderful — Its time we move forward with this all over our nation!

  6. Let’s face it, there are several factors affecting the increasing weight of the general population. Most notable among these is the addition of growth hormones to the animals that become our daily meals. It stands to reason that these additives are intended to fatten up the animals for increased profit for those industries involved in the food industries. It is certain, regardless of all the denials, that these additives are in fact being passed onto humans through the consumption of the meat that is sold to the public. Of course weight will be added to the bodies of the folks eating this stuff. How can it not happen? We continue to be force fed by the media and advertisers that various beverages are to blame. When was the last time you heard of any suggestion that growth hormones are to blame? It is high time that we bring our focus onto growth hormones, the real reason every one, young and old, are becoming fatties.

  7. Soda and junk food should have never been in the schools. But because some of our corrupted elected officials, who are pocketing money from the Soda executives & their CEO. Instead of holding the highest morality of the office. They choose to hold their allegiance to the Corporations’ greet & power.
    I’ve lost my election last May 05 to Mr. Eric Forrest the executive of Pepsi Cola! Most of our elected officials supported him and his evil ethics. My life was threatened, and more than three times, someone was trying to run me over and kill me.

  8. The danger of so many healthy new sodas is a health hazard for our children. Today some sodas are organic, but still loaded with sugars hidden by the ingredient list as organic evaporated cane juice. The hazards are a virtually the same – diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Our schools need to set a standard for allowable sugars. Carbonation is never good for children. These products are a real danger!