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L.A. Schools Set to Can Soda Sales


Dr Pepper is about to get expelled from public schools in Los Angeles. So, too, are Coke, Pepsi and Mr. PiBB.

In an effort to promote better health, the Los Angeles school district's board is expected Tuesday to ban soft drink sales during school hours at all of its 677 schools.

Educators and legislators have been grappling for years with how to curb junk food consumption on campuses. So far, only a handful of districts, including the Oakland Unified School District, have restricted soft drink sales.

"It's going to set a national trend," said Francesca de la Rosa of the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College's Urban and Environmental Policy Institute. The Los Angeles Unified School District, with 748,000 students, is the nation's second-largest. "People will say, if you can do it at LAUSD, you can do it anywhere."

But some principals and students at more than 200 middle and high schools worry about replacing thousands of dollars they receive each year from soft drink sales. That money helps fund field trips, school dances and athletic programs.

Alex Contreras, assistant principal of Los Angeles High School, said his school stands to lose money for sports referees, dance supervisors, student store managers and field trips. In the past, Coca-Cola has offered the school $50,000 upfront for a three-year exclusive contract, on top of the nearly $5,000 a month the campus earns from soft drink sales.

"You can only sell so many candy bars and have so many magazine drives," Contreras said. "Honestly, some of those programs will be hurt very badly, and I don't know what alternative we will have."

Kenneth Raymond, a 17-year-old senior at Dorsey High School, said the ban would "be a real shocker" to students who depend on the money to help pay for a number of activities.

"When it is time for us to have dances and we don't have enough money, we rely on money from vending machines," Raymond said. "Even at pep rallies, we need to pay for our deejays. The school isn't going to pay for that."

School Board President Caprice Young said the district would phase in the initiative slowly, in part to find alternative sources of money. "We need to make sure the kids are drinking things that are not unhealthy for them, and at the same time balancing the need to have revenue for our clubs and sports," she said. "I think we'll be able to do that."

Genethia Hudley-Hayes, one of the three co-sponsors of the motion before the school board, said the district should not be contributing to the unhealthy lifestyles of children, particularly blacks and Latinos.

Such children, she said, "suffer greater childhood obesity, juvenile diabetes, asthma....Why do we let them get off of the bus and have them rush immediately to drink a sugar-caffeinated drink, and then say, 'OK, please now go participate in rigorous academic training' ?"

Hayes said she believes schools can make up money lost by selling more healthful drinks.

"People purchase what is available," she said.

If the motion passes as expected, all schools will be prohibited from selling carbonated drinks during school hours starting in January 2004. Water, milk, drinks composed of at least 50% fruit juice and sports drinks with less than 42 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving would still be allowed.

A similar ban on sodas in elementary schools was signed into law last October by Gov. Gray Davis, as part of legislation limiting the sale of junk food and soda in public elementary schools. It will also go into effect in January 2004. In May, a proposal to phase out sale of sodas in all California public schools failed to clear the state Senate's Education Committee.

Similar unsuccessful legislation has been introduced in Maryland, Oklahoma and Kentucky. Texas is the only state that bans the sale of all junk food, including soft drinks, during lunchtime on its public school campuses.

The motion before the Los Angeles board is co-sponsored by Hayes, Marlene Canter and Julie Korenstein. It was inspired in part by research showing that nearly half the students in the district's poorest schools were obese or at least overweight.

A United States Department of Agriculture study conducted in the mid-1990s showed that children ages 12 to 17 receive 11% of their calories from soft drinks. A report published last year by doctors at Children's Hospital in Boston showed that children who consume one extra sugar-sweetened drink a day have a 60% greater chance of becoming obese.

"It's liquid candy, and it's screwing up our metabolism," said Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian with Los Angeles Project LEAN/Food on the Run, a state program that advocates healthier school food and beverages.

Sean McBride, spokesman for the National Soft Drink Assn., said the board members' efforts to prevent childhood obesity are misguided.

"We are being singled out for a very complex problem," he said.

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