The average 12 to 19 year-old boy who drinks soda consumes more than 2 cans of soda per day; this is the equivalent of one full-sized mason jar of sugar per week! It is not surprising that as soda intake has increased over the past few decades, incidence of childhood obesity has also increased. While soft drink consumption alone cannot be blamed for the poor health of children, studies have shown that sodas are the largest source of unrefined sugar in children’s diets. How can we help our children cut down on their soft drink consumption and improve their diets? We can ban sodas from our school systems.
In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools. The decision stemmed from rising concerns over the increase in incidence of childhood obesity and accompanying health risks (type II diabetes and high blood pressure). The ban, which went into effect in January 2004, affects more than 750,000 students.
As a result of the ban, sodas may not be sold at LAUSD schools. School stores, cafeterias, and vending machines instead offer fruit-based drinks (containing at least 50-percent juice and no added sweeteners), drinking water and vitamin waters (containing no more than 42 grams of added sweetener per 20-ounce serving), milk, soy milk, and rice milk, and electrolyte replacement beverages (such as Gatorade).
The soda ban came about as the result of hard work on the part of concerned school board members, parents, teachers, and a coalition of healthy food advocates. These parties designed a campaign to get sodas out of the schools: they developed language for the resolution banning sodas, generated support letters, and mobilized parents and community members to attend board meetings. A key goal of the campaign was to influence board members, and this was accomplished through letter writing and phone campaigns, and by ingenious techniques like a “Board Member Gift Delivery” (each board member received a full-sized mason jar of sugar, the amount a teenager consumers each week by drinking two sodas a day).
The issue of lost revenue was a major sticking point in the deliberation process. Soft drink sales in the LAUSD generated thousands of dollars each year, money used to fund sports and other extracurricular activities. The LAUSD Superintendent helped the resolution pass when he promised to investigate and report on how to address any fiscal impacts resulting from the ban. Now that the ban is in place, evidence seems to suggest that fears about falling revenue were exaggerated. Monroe High, for example, was able to coax sales back near to pre-ban levels by strategies such as letting students sample new drinks for free.
The Los Angeles Unified School District continues to work to improve student nutrition. On July 1, 2004, the district will begin enforcing strict nutritional standards (related to fat content, for example) on other foods sold in student stores, vending machines, and at school fundraisers.
Contact Group: Los Angeles Unified School District
Address: P.O. Box 3307
Los Angeles, CA 90051