This week, various media outlets reported on a study which concluded that school soda bans are ineffective; or, as as The Chicago Tribute put it — ‘School Soda Bans Don’t Cut Kids’ Consumption’. This not only frames the issue incorrectly, but also blames “ineffective bans” for problems they were never intended to correct.
According to the study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, “among eighth graders, state bans on all sugar-sweetened drinks in schools meant fewer kids reported buying the drinks there — but it didn’t change how many of them said they drank soda or sports drinks regularly.”
My response: “so?”. Schools are only responsible for what happens on school grounds. The fact that children are otherwise barraged with soda advertisements (and that these drinks are artificially cheap) goes beyond the scope of this particular intervention.
The goal of these laws is to take away the opportunity for sugar-sweetened drinks to be consumed during school hours. And, in that, they are successful.
The “soda ban” issue is problematic on another level. While some states ban all sugar-sweetened drinks (my policy of choice), other have soda-only bans. In other words, soda is not sold on school grounds, but other sweetened beverages (that are essentially flat soda) get a green light.
Replacing a can of Coke with a bottle of sugary Snapple is not an improvement. Neither is replacing a can of Coke with a can of Diet Coke. This is why it is crucial to frame the issue not as “soda” consumption, but “sweetened/sugary beverage” consumption. I use both terms on purpose; this way, everything from chocolate milk to “100% apple juice” to diet soda to Gatorade falls under the same umbrella.
The article quotes Daniel Taber of he University of Illinois at Chicago, who worked on the study. He says: “I wouldn’t see this as a failure, it’s just that that’s not going to be enough.”
I don’t entirely disagree with that statement; he is right, “soda bans” in and of themselves are not enough. However, I — and, I believe, many of my colleagues — never viewed them as “the answer”, but rather as one of many tactics needed to help alleviate a larger problem.
What this study makes clear — and what I hope lawmakers take away — is that comprehensive “bans” on all sugary/sweetened beverages cut down on children’s consumption of these drinks during school hours. The fact that children drink soda and other similar beverages at home or on the weekends is a separate issue.
The larger problem here, of course, is the presence of vending machines in schools. While outside the scope of this particular study on sweetened beverages, I object to the sale of even bottled water at schools. Whatever happened to just having water fountains?