Getting Hard on Soft Drinks in Schools

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Jan 5, 2004 -- The sale of soft drinks should be eliminated from schools to protect children's health, according to a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Sweet soft drinks constitute the primary source of added sugar in the daily diet of children. Each 12-ounce serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar! The majority of school-age children consume at least one soft drink daily.

Overweight and Other Health Problems

The consumption of sweetened soft drinks has been associated with the increased risk of overweight and obesity, currently the most common health problems in childhood.

Aside from overweight and obesity, sweet soft drinks promote dental caries (cavities) and potential enamel erosion.

Soft drinks also displace milk consumption, resulting in calcium deficiency with an attendant risk of osteoporosis and fractures. As soft drink consumption increases, milk consumption decreases, and milk is the principal source of calcium in the typical American diet.

Schools Make Soft Drinks Ubiquitous

Soft drinks and fruit drinks are sold in vending machines, in school stores, at school sporting events, and at school fund drives. "Exclusive pouring rights" contracts, in which the school agrees to promote one brand exclusively in exchange for money, are being signed in an increasing number of school districts across the country, often with bonus incentives tied to sales. Although they are a new phenomenon, such contracts already have provided schools with more than $200 million in unrestricted revenue.

Some superintendents, school board members, and principals claim that the financial gain from soft drink contracts is an unquestioned "win" for students, schools, communities, and taxpayers. (In the area where we live, the Duval County, Florida School Board has a $13.5 contract with Pepsi as the exclusive provider of soft drinks.) Parents and school authorities generally are uninformed about the potential risk to the health of their children that may be associated with the unrestricted consumption of soft drinks.

Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics 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 over-consumption 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 Academy of Pediatrics 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.

Source: Committee on School Health of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Soft Drinks in Schools. Pediatrics 2004; 113: 152-154.

American Academy of Pediatrics: An organization of 57,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists concerned with the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/5/2004




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