Water, real fruit and vegetable drinks and low-fat white and flavored milk may soon be the only beverages available in schools. At least, that is the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics in a policy statement.
In a new policy statement, "Soft Drinks in Schools," the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that school districts should consider restricting the sale of soft drinks to safeguard against health problems that result from overconsumption.
The policy points out that sweetened drinks constitute the primary source of added sugar in the daily diet of children, and that each 12-ounce serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sugared soft drink consumption has been associated with increased risk of overweight and obesitycurrently the most common medical condition of childhood. Additional health problems associated with high intake of sweetened drinks are dental cavities and potential enamel erosion.
According to the policy, between 56 and 85 percent of school-age children consume at least one soft drink daily. Twenty percent of adolescent boys drink at least four soft drinks a day, the academy said. As soft drink consumption increases, milk consumption decreases, and milk is the principal source of calcium in the typical American diet. With soft drinks and fruit drinks being sold in vending machines, in school stores and at school sporting events, their availability is ubiquitous. While soft drink sales can be a substantial source of income for school districts, nutritious alternatives such as water, real fruit juices and low-fat milks are available for vending, and can help preserve school revenues.
Vending machine contracts earn schools more than $200 million. In the Chicago Public Schools, a five-year beverage vending machine contract that expires next October will earn the district $20 million.
The policy recommends that pediatricians work to eliminate sweetened soft drinks in schools. This entails educating school authorities, patients and parents about the health ramifications of soft drink consumption. The statement also recommends that
Pediatricians advocate for the creation of a school nutrition advisory council as one means of ensuring that the health and nutritional interests of students form the foundation of nutritional policies in schools.
School districts should invite public discussion before making any decision to sign a vended food or drink contract.
If a school district already has a soft drink contract in place, it should be adapted so that it does not promote overconsumption by students.
Consumption or advertising of sweetened soft drinks within the classroom should be eliminated.
As part of the effort to reduce consumption of soft drinks in schools, the policy recommends that vending machines not be placed within the cafeteria space where lunch is sold, and that soft drinks not be sold as part of, or in competition with, the school lunch program.
The National Soft Drink Association said the pediatricians' proposed ban would go too far. Lack of physical activity is the main culprit in childhood obesity, the group said. "Soft drinks can be part of a balanced lifestyle and are a nice treat," said association spokesman Jim Finkelstein. He said beverage companies such as Coca Cola Co. and PepsiCo are experimenting with milk-based products for school vending machines.
"The kids need a certain amount of hydration," Finkelstein said. "The average kid in a secondary school consumes 1.4 beverages out of a vending machine a week. The rate of consumption does not show these kids are guzzling soft drinks."
The soft drink association said school vending machines are already shut down during lunch by law, and cited a study showing soft drinks were not replacing milk in children's diets.
* In Illinois, a measure backed by Gov. Blagojevich would ban soft drinks and junk food from school vending machines.
* California has mandated what schools should serve in cafeterias, and Texas set new guidelines on student exercise.
* In Los Angeles County, health concerns prompted school officials to vote to phase out the sale of soda pop and sugar-laden soft drinks to its 748,000 students.
In voting unanimously to end the sale of soda in vending machines and cafeterias by January of 2004, the Los Angeles School Board rejected arguments that its 677 campuses need the money they make from the drinks, saying that students' health should take precedence over fund raising.
The school district already prohibits carbonated drink sales at elementary schools. The new measure extends the ban to the district's approximately 200 middle and high schools. It only takes effect during school hours. Still permitted during school hours are water, milk, beverages with at least 50 percent fruit juice and sports drinks with less than 42 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving.
Critics of the soda ban argue that sugar-laden drinks are only part of a larger health and junk food problem and some Los Angeles school administrators predicted that they will have trouble paying for such things as dances and band uniforms.
A study conducted two years ago by Massachusetts researchers concluded that drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks increases the chance of childhood obesity. Some other studies have failed to find any link.
Others argue that school officials are focusing on student diets while education suffers, and that officials should leave the issue of the children's diets to their parents.