Group backs school soft drink ban

The Daily Herald staff and Associated Press


Soft drinks should be eliminated from schools to help tackle the nation's obesity epidemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

At least one Snohomish County school district -- the second largest one, in Everett -- will begin taking up that very issue in the weeks and months ahead.

It's not just looking at banning pop. The district is forming a committee, which will include students, to examine "all food sales that go on inside the schools," said Debbie Webber, the district's food and nutrition services manager.

Webber referred to national studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that point to a correlation of changing nutritional habits among children and obesity.

From 1976 through 1978, for instance, boys consumed twice as much milk as soft drinks and girls consumed 50 percent more milk than soft drinks. By 1994 through 1996, boys and girls consumed twice as much soft drinks as milk, the study says.

Along with the pop ban, the American Academy of Pediatrics also is calling for local pediatricians to work with schools to ensure that children are offered healthy alternatives in lunchrooms.

In a new policy statement, the academy says doctors should contact superintendents and school board members and "emphasize the notion that every school in every district shares a responsibility for the nutritional health of its students."

While some schools rely on funds from vending machines to pay for student activities, the new policy says elementary and high schools should avoid such contracts, and that those with existing contracts should impose restrictions to avoid promoting overconsumption by kids.

"The purpose of the statement is to give parents and superintendents and school board members and teachers, too, an awareness of the fact that they're playing a role in the current obesity crisis, and that they have measures at their disposal" to address it, said Dr. Robert D. Murray, the policy's lead author.

About 15 percent of U.S. youngsters aged 6 to 19 are seriously overweight. That is nearly 9 million youths and triple the number in a similar assessment from 1980.

Soft drinks are a common source of excess calories that can contribute to weight gain, the academy's policy says. It cites data showing that up to 85 percent of school-age children consume at least one soft drink daily, most often sugared rather than diet sodas.

The National Soft Drink Association said the new policy goes too far.

"Soft drinks can be a part of a balanced lifestyle and are a nice treat," said Jim Finkelstein, the association's executive director.

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