Organic Consumers Association

Canada Begins to Get Soda Pop out of Schools


School is no place to sell pop

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Canada's soft-drink industry has made the right decision in planning to pull
all carbonated drinks from elementary and junior high schools across the
country by the beginning of the next school year, September 2004. It has
become painfully clear highly sugared drinks - the average can of pop
contains between 10 and 12 teaspoons of sugar - are a factor in the growing
problem of obesity among youngsters.

This is so clear, in fact, the industry should extend its ban on in-school
sales to high schools, as well. The fact it is volunteering to withdraw only
from junior levels suggests it knows well school authorities - or the public
- are leaning towards evicting them sooner or later. If and when school
boards decide to act, they will likely choose a ban that would include high

Is the industry action really a pre-emptive strategy designed to protect
their profitable presence in the more lucrative high schools? It's a fair
question to ask. It is also fair to ask why schools or school boards have
not acted on their own. They, too, have been well aware of the evidence
tying the consumption of empty calories to the obesity epidemic in Canada.

How could schools countenance the consumption of oceans of pop, knowing
excessive soda consumption in childhood can lead to calcium deficiencies and
a greater likelihood of bone fractures? Girls accumulate 40 per cent of
their bone density - boys rather less - during puberty.

Canadians like to think excessive pop consumption is an American problem.
There's no question it is a problem south of the border: 20 years ago,
teenage boys in the U.S. drank twice as much milk as soda; now they drink
twice as much soda as milk. A fifth of U.S. one- and 2-year-olds drink soda.

But it's not just a U.S. problem. As The Gazette's series on obesity this
week reported, the proportion of overweight children in Canada nearly
tripled between 1981 and 1996, to 29.3 per cent of children age 7 to 13.
When children fill up on empty-calorie food, of which pop is a prime
example, they are less likely to have appetite for other foods.

Canadian research shows consumption of milk is 30 per cent lower in schools
that also sell soft drinks and flavoured drinks. According to a 1997
Canadian study, children who consume soft drinks average one less serving of
milk each day.

No one is disputing the right of soft-drink manufacturers to sell their
products. They have a legitimate place in the marketplace. But schools are
not - or should not be - part of the marketplace. Children should be able to
learn in an atmosphere free of commercial pressures.

This month, the Los Angeles School Board, the second-largest in the U.S.
after New York City's, bans the sale of soft drinks to its 748,000 students.
The board argued students should not be made to pay for school activities or
supplies by buying soda drinks. This is the right attitude.

Canadian schools should not wait for the industry to take the right
decisions. The No. 1 priority for any school board has to be the health and
well-being of students. Some Canadian school boards may have lost sight of
© Copyright 2004 Montreal Gazette

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