Senators and Activists Agree: No Soda in Schools

Soft drink companies agreed to voluntary guidelines to remove sugar dense sodas from public schools in a deal brokered by the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association in 2006, but advocates for healthy food choices are calling for tighter restrictions. The global campaign, Dump Soft Drinks, and new legislation being drafted in the Senate are calling for nutrition-based limitations in the food and beverages available in easy-to-reach school vending machines.

Proposed Amendment Seeks to Reduce Soda and Junk Food in Schools

After years of advocating for improved nutritional standards in schools, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R., AK) and Tom Harkin (D., IA) say they will offer an amendment to the Senate farm bill that will “improve the diets and nutrition of America’s school children by setting reasonable, common-sense standards for the foods and beverages that are sold in school vending machines and similar outlets” [1].

The nutritional standards for food sales haven’t changed since the late 1970’s, “when microwaves were considered cutting-edge, newfangled technology,” Harkin told The Wall Street Journal [2]. The proposed legislation would eliminate soft drinks and other high sugar beverages from elementary and middle school, but would allow low-fat flavored milk products, diet sodas, and sports drinks in high schools. It would also place limits on salty, high calorie and fatty snack foods.

 

Global Dump Soft Drinks Campaign

Setting nutrition standards for school vending machines is just one of Dump Soft Drinks‘ recommendations. The campaign is lead by two advocacy groups well versed in both national and global public health fights for healthy diets and food. With theDump Soft Drinks campaign, the Center for 

Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and their global counterpart, theInternational Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO), work to inform consumers about how soft drinks contribute to diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes.

The campaign emphasizes global health effects beyond schools. In the US and Europe, rates of obesity and diabetes are increasing due to unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity, a trend now reaching global dimensions. In their report “Soft Drinks and Obesity—Global Threats to Diet and Health” [3], Dump Soft Drinks shows specific examples of the correlation between increasing soda consumption and rising diabetes rates in countries like Mexico and China. The report also points to the role played by transnational corporations that market nutritionally empty products in developing countries—many of which, paradoxically, continue to be burdened by under-nutrition.

The campaign calls for marketing restrictions on companies like Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. that spend billions on target marketing each year. Following the United Kingdom’s new legislation that limits marketing to younger audiences, Dump Soft Drinks wants to see the end of US soft drink marketing to children and teenagers under 16. They also advocate for labeling regulations and propose a value-added tax to soft drinks that would go toward boosting government health and nutrition education programs.

Dump Soft Drinks: Recommendations to limit soft drink companies’ contribution to diet-related disease

1. Increase the promotion of new lower-sugar products, sell existing high sugar products in smaller portions, and support independently funded research on the use of safe substitute sweeteners.

2. Cease all marketing of sugar-laden beverages to children under 16, including print and broadcast advertising, product placement, the Internet, mobile phones, athletic event sponsorship, signage, merchandising, and other means.

3. Prominently display the calorie content, per serving, of all beverages on the fronts of containers and the outer labels of multi-container packages, along with the number of servings per bottle or can as part of a comprehensive labeling system utilizing simple and uniform symbols to convey nutritional value. Sugary beverages should also include rotating consumer alerts such as “High sugar – drink only occasionally” or “For occasional consumption. Drink water to quench thirst.”

4. Stop promoting and selling sweetened beverages, including sports drinks and fruit flavored beverages and teas, in all public and private elementary, middle, and high schools; sell fruit juice in container sizes of 250 ml or less.

5. Pay a modest Value Added Tax on soft drinks – with governments using the proceeds for nutrition education and physical activity programs and to subsidize the costs of fruits and vegetables.

6. Ensure that sponsorships involving the promotion of physical activity and health be made in a transparent fashion only to independent health charities or government agencies which, in turn, use such funds for programs not associated with the company’s logo, brands, or other proprietary information. Physical activity and nutrition education programs sponsored by beverage companies should not convey the impression that all products produced by the company are healthful and nutritious.

Opponents cite declining US and European soft drink sales and ask “Why not let parents and children make their own food and beverage decisions?” In an interview with Fox News, CSPI spokesperson, Bruce Silverglade, addressed this concern. “Coca-cola and Pepsi spend almost $5 billion dollars a year advertising their products worldwide. That is a sum that is exponentially higher than the amount spent on nutrition education… Marketing undermines … parental authority and counteracts the efforts by parents to teach their children to live more healthily” [4].

Working to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, both The Global Dump Soft Drinks Campaign and the Senate farm bill amendment agree that as a learning environment, schools are obligated to model healthy food choices as nutrition education by limiting the sales of soft drinks and junk food.

CSPI worked with Senators Harkin and Murkowski to develop legislation that would receive broad support. Health advocates and food and beverage industry allies are now standing behind the proposed federal nutrition-based standards. Though battles to push the legislation through Congress remain to be fought, it is currently endorsed by the American Dietetic Association, the American Public Health Association and the National PTA, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes and the American Beverage Association.

 

References

1. Harkin-Murkowski amendment will update decade-old nutrition standards in schools nationwide. Senator Lisa Murkowski, United States Senate Press Release. Dec 4, 2007. Available athttp://murkowski.senate.gov/pressapp/record.cfm?id=288191.

2.McKay B. Soda Makers Support Tougher Curbs. The Wall Street Journal. Nov 9, 2007:B2. Available athttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB119458164755287687.html.

3.Soft Drinks and Obesity—Global Threats to Diet and Health. The Global Dump Soft Drinks Campaign.http://www.dumpsoda.org.

4. Should Government Limit Marketing of Soft Drinks to Children? Fox TV News Debate. Washington, D.C. Nov 16, 2007. Available at http://www.dumpsoda.org/media.html.

 

Photo Credit:
United States Federal Government, Public Domain.