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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

The School Soda Hypocrisy

September 15, 2002

Schools wouldn't sell cigarettes on campus to raise money for a student dance. So it's really about time they followed the lead of the Capistrano schools and other pioneering districts by getting rid of soda machines and junk foods.

Yes, we all know that kids, at least the older ones, can readily get their hands on a Coke as soon as they leave campus. And it's possible that campuses will make less money for extracurricular activities by selling bottled water and raisins than sugary sodas and candy.

Adults feel, with some justification, that children, especially adolescents, often aren't listening to a thing that authority figures say. But kids are experts at observing what adults do--and fail to do. Schools have been spitting forth lessons about health and nutrition but made it clear that making bucks is more important than eating right. That's arguably an appropriate philosophy for Pepsi bottlers; it's not for public school boards, which should make campuses relative havens from the bombardment of junk culture.

It's embarrassing to recall Laguna Beach's 1998 decision to have the school lunch menus printed by a marketing company. The full-color menus showed off two unlikely spokesmen--plain and peanut-butter M&Ms--who told children, "It's plain nutty if you don't eat healthy." The schools got 2 cents for each menu that went home with children--then went back to plain menus the next year.

Capistrano officials don't expect funding from food and drink sales to fall off. At some schools, sales representatives have told them, vending machines of water and juice have to be replenished more often than soda machines. Hungry and thirsty children reach for whatever palatable products are available. True, candy is enough of a lure to get them to munch something even when they're not hungry, but surely no adult wants to feed into such an unhealthful eating pattern, especially given current concerns about teen obesity.

If funding does fall off, it's unconvincing to cry about how unfair it is to lose money for field trips and dances. Students who have money to buy soda and other junk foods have a few dollars they can spend on the student dance. Maybe schools can try starting a donation box and urge students to plunk their soda money into a fund that will help pay for field trips and other extracurricular activities. That way, the entire dollar goes to benefit students, instead of just the percentage returned by the soda company.

Schools that eschew junk food need to keep an educated eye on what's meant by "healthful." Some "juice products" are loaded with sugar; some pure fruit juices carry very little nutrition. Many a granola bar has been laced with chocolate chips and marshmallows to the point where no dietitian would consider it a healthful option.

Still, it's nice to think that a generation of children could learn that the appropriate response to thirst is a drink of water.

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