January 5 — 2:09 pm, 2004

Pediatricians call for school soda ban

As the School Reform Commission (SRC) gears up this week to take action on the School District of Philadelphia’s policy on selling sweetened beverages to students, a key national physicians’ group has issued a statement urging districts nationwide to restrict student access to sweetened soft drinks.

In an era of alarming childhood obesity levels, schoolchildren are drinking too many sweetened soft drinks and not enough milk or real fruit juice, and school districts must do their part to help reverse this trend, says the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) in a policy statement released in early January.

Noting that more than half of school-aged children drink at least one soda per day, the AAP-which has more than 29,000 members nationwide-calls on school districts to play a vital role in helping curb sweetened soft drink consumption.

Duane Perry, executive director of the Food Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes healthy nutrition standards and seeks to limit student access to sweetened beverages in schools, praised the AAP’s position.

"We’re thrilled that the [AAP] has endorsed the position," said Perry, whose organization commissioned a June 2003 opinion poll that found 73 percent of local public school parents disapprove of increasing student access to sugared soft drinks in schools.

"We’re hopeful that the SRC listens seriously to both what parents have said, as well as what the [AAP] has said," Perry said.

But a preliminary version of the District’s new soda policy falls unreasonably short of the recommendations made by the AAP, a January 13 Inquirer editorial argues.

The policy would require 100 percent fruit juices in preK-8 schools, but not in high schools, allow sweetened milk drinks which are only 51 percent real milk, and permit the sale of other sugary drinks besides soda, the Inquirer said.

School District spokesman Vincent Thompson, who said the soda ban under consideration is just one part of a larger student health review process, could not confirm when the SRC will make a final decision on the beverage policy, but said a vote will take place "at the appropriate time."

The nation’s two largest school districts, New York and Los Angeles, have banned soda sales during the school day. Three states-California, Texas, and Arkansas-have recently passed legislation which places restrictions on what types of food and beverages can be sold in school vending machines, while similar legislation has been proposed in at least 19 other states, according to an October Education Week report.

For more information call the Food Trust at 215-568-0830 or visit www.thefoodtrust.org.

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