Soda under siege

January 12, 2004

IT'S WET and it's bubbly and it's bereft of nutritional value: You knew it was junk food whether you grew up calling it soda, pop or tonic, and you drank it anyway. Should today's kids?

Not during school. That's why schools shouldn't be selling it.

Common sense would seem to link the frequent consumption of soft drinks with the growing problem of childhood obesity, and many school districts are under pressure to give up their soda sales and forgo the lucrative revenue.

America's pediatricians last week joined this call, but they're Johnny-come-latelies: The nation's two largest school districts, Los Angeles and New York, last year banned soda sales during the school day. A new California law prohibits soda sales during school hours in public elementary and junior high schools beginning this July; Texas, Florida and Hawaii already have restrictions.

Dozens more states are considering similar measures, sending shock waves through the vending and bottling industries, which are being pressed to provide healthier choices - such as all-juice and juice-based drinks and water.

The fact is, many studies have shown that being hydrated helps students pay attention and learn, so health-conscious educators want more water to be available. A 12-ounce bottle of soda, on the other hand, packs the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar, which can exacerbate hyperactivity; no educational benefit there.

Maryland's school food policy prohibits the sale of items of "minimal nutritional value" - including soda - from 12:01 a.m. to the end of a school's last lunch period; compliance varies from school to school. But the ban should extend to the whole school day.

The state's secondary-school principals' association opposes giving up soda sales altogether because many principals rely on the no-labor-involved revenue it brings in to pay for items that the taxpayers' dollars don't stretch to cover.

We sympathize, but it's a habit they should be willing to give up to promote better student health. Banning soda sales won't stop students from bringing it from home, but that, too, should be an argument for the schools to supply only healthy alternatives - not to mention fitness programs, nutrition lessons and well-balanced school lunches.

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