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Sugar Wars: Coca-Cola & Junk Food Industry Under Attack

Published on Tuesday, July 20, 2004 by <>

Sugar Wars
Taking it to the Peddlers of Diabetes and Osteoporosis
by John F. Borowski

I look forward to September, a time when millions of students, head back to
school, to build the foundations of democracy, delve into the arts, sharpen
a sense of wonder and build equity in our society. But, I like many
teachers, am fighting a nemesis, one that inhibits thought, puts children on
a roller coaster of emotion and drains their vitality. And this nemesis is
often an invited and welcomed guest: soda pop. Nearly 19 out of 20 high
schools like mine, sell soda. Ironically, the past can foretell the future.
In 1931, a Coke bottler bragged, "the kids play basketball at recess on
Coca-Cola goals, use Coca-Cola blotters to blot our their troubles, consult
a Coca-Cola thermometer and write their notes on Coca-Cola tablets." And
seventy years later, Coca-Cola¹s senior vice president for public affairs
and its chief lobbyist isn't passing out Coke blotters: no, John Downs Jr.
now has a seat on the National Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) as a
board member! Under the Bush Administration the Secretary of Health, Tommy
Thompson has heralded the Grocery Manufacturing Association for its "fine
job in promoting healthy eating." With positioning on school related
organizations and aided and abetted by the Bush Administration (Leave No
"sugared" Child Behind?) pop pimps see schools as a "sugary nirvana."

Children are seduced daily by television (watching an average of 3-4 hours)
bombarded with 10,000- food advertisements yearly: many to consume pop. In
1998, the advertising budget for soft drinks was $115.5 million. School
often is the only "relatively commercial free" environment left for
children. The sugar peddlers know this; they know that school provides a
captive audience, with the reward of generating life long and dedicated
brand consumers. Their strategy is simple: entice school administrators with
dollars. It is immoral, unethical and unconscionable: apparently corporate
rules operate in the absence of these conditions.

Coca-Cola provides "Coke in Education Day" where Coke officials lecture in
economic classes and analysis of Coke products are done for chemistry. Do
you think that this "Coke Day" studied the yearly cost of obesity in the
United States, calculated between $75-100 billion? Did they encourage the
chemistry class to note that for every can of Coke you drink, it takes 32
glasses of water to neutralize the phosphoric acid in your body? Would they
do experiments that show when sugar is combined with carbon dioxide the
calcium/phosphorous ratio in the body is upset: making bones brittle? Coke
just doesn't target schools. In 1998, Coca-Cola paid the Boys and Girls
Clubs of America $60 million for exclusive marketing of their sugar water in
2,000 clubs!

How many Coke or PepsiCo officials have read "Liquid Candy" a report that
shows that soft drinks are the single greatest source of refined sugar in
children's diets? PepsiCo holds the "pouring contract" in my school
district. Two years ago, when a cheerleader from the newly built West Salem
High tried to sell bottled water, the monolithic pop company crushed her
attempts. Maybe, PepsiCo had fallen on hard times and could not stand the
competition? As of July this year, their profits are up by 12% from last
year, with a first quarter net profit of $1.06 Billion.

Don't be fooled by rhetoric and semantics, simply provide the staggering
data that damns any reason to peddle pop in our public schools:

* One can of coke contains nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar or the
entire daily recommended amount of calories from sugar;
* One of five American children is now considered obese. Americans
consume nearly 53 teaspoons of sugar daily;
* Sugar in soda makes blood acidic robbing the body of calcium and
which can lead to osteoporosis;
* The "quick energy" from soda is followed by "lows", ask any
teacher who has to deal with students loaded with sugar;
* The sugar in soda helps to whither crucial bacteria in our
intestines, reducing vitamin B which inhibits thinking, making children
* Studies have shown that girls who play sports and consumed soda
daily experienced 3x the risk of bone fractures.

Before considering taking the battle to the sugar pushers, consider that
victories are being recorded nationwide and people are making the
difference. California has banned junk food/pop sales in elementary and
middle schools. Los Angeles has banned the sale of soda in all public
schools, with Philadelphia following with a similar plan. These are
tremendous victories; yet, with much work ahead we all can do the legwork to
free our children from osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity and predatory

The strategy is simple and clear, the time for compromise and apathy is
over: our children will not be tools for negotiating massive profits for
multinational corporations. First, call Health and Human Services Tommy
Thompson and chide him for being a lapdog to the sugar pushers. The toll
free number is 1-877-696-6775. He told the Grocery Manufacturers Association
(GMA) to "go on the offensive" against critics blaming the food industry for
obesity. This was proudly stated in a GMA news release. Tell him that the
federal government should take a position of no soda pop vending in schools.

Secondly, call the PTA and ask them to state an unambiguous statement
against the vending of pop in schools. The President of the PTA, Linda Hodge
can be reached toll free at 800-307-4782 (extension 312). Demand that John
Downs Jr. be removed from the PTA board due to conflict of interest. On the
PTA's homepage you can contact your own state¹s PTA representative. The PTA
provides rosy language about children's health in schools, yet avoids the
tough talk needed to protect children from soda pop.

Thirdly, contact the National Association Secondary School Principals.
Principals are crucial when it comes to decision making in their districts.
On the NASSP website under "Guidelines for School Beverage Partnerships"
they speak eloquently "The importance of providing healthy choices to
students, faculty, and school visitors should be paramount for school
officials in discussions with beverage companies."

If healthy choices are "paramount" then soda pop contracts should be
abolished. You can contact Jay Engeln at He is the
Resident Practitioner for the Business/School Partnerships at NASSP. He also
speaks on the "benefits" of pop contracts through the Council for Corporate
and School Partners: funded by, you got it, the Coca-Cola Corporation. Call
your local principal and demand that soda contracts with the school district
be voided.

Fourth, contact the National School Board Association (NSBA) at In the last three weeks I have contacted all fifty state
contacts and have received two responses. On their home page, you can find
the email of your state representative. Ironically, in his book, "Food
Fight" Doctor Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center for Eating
Disorders, states that the soft drink and sugar lobbyists fight off
legislation proposed by the Department of Agriculture "aided by the National
School Board Association and the National Association of Secondary School
Principals." I suggest that school librarians in high schools make this book
available and all parents should read it as well.

Lastly, contact your own child's school. Write editorials. Speak up at
soccer, music, basketball and other school fund-raisers. Contact your local
pediatricians and ask them to write letters demanding that pop be removed
from public schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with a
policy statement that suggests limits on soft drinks.

Defenders of pop contracts will wail, "We need the money." Let corporations
make altruistic donations without strings. We fund organizations like the
"School of the Americas" or provide vast tax subsidies for tobacco, timber
extraction and oil exploration. How about funneling those dollars in music,
science and sports? Some will decry that students need to make their own
choices. Nonsense, if their elders actively peddle pop in schools, it sends
the message that it is okay. When did adults give up on providing directions
through the minefield of adolescence? Let soda pop be an infrequent and rare
treat, not a substitute for water, fruit juices and milk.

Parents often brag about the wonderful car seat or athletic shoes they
provide for their children; second best is not an option for their child. So
let the school year 2004-2005 become a time where parents took schools back
from the purveyors of osteoporosis, diabetes and public apathy. Second best
is not best enough when it comes to this nation's children.

John F. Borowski is a marine and environmental science teacher in Salem,
Oregon. His pieces have appeared in the N.Y. Times, Utne Reader, numerous
newspapers and websites, he may be reached at