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Our Bodies: Will Inland Schools Follow L.A. Schools Soft

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Last month the Vines Medical Society, a component of the National Medical Society, joined hands with the Inland African American Health Initiative in calling on the San Bernardino and Riverside County School Districts to ban soft drinks on their campuses during school hours.

It seems that San Bernardino and Riverside school officials, like elsewhere across the nation, are grappling with a classic confrontation: economics at the risk of our children’s health.
In August, L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) officials boldly rejected arguments that its 677 campuses need the 54.5 million annually they make from the drinks, saying that students’ health should take precedence over fund raising. Sodas sold in LAUSD vending machines and student stores generate an annual profit of $39,000 per high school and $14,000 per middle school. The new policy to take effect in January 2004 will phase out soft drinks in vending machines and cafeterias, where they will be replaced by water, milk and fruit and sports drinks.
It’s time for San Bernardino and Riverside to follow suit. Ban soft drinks on all Inland District campuses.
It is appalling that this issue boils down to economics versus our children’s health. Schools should not rely on students to subsidize their own educations. In California, an estimated 30 percent of children are overweight or at risk of being overweight, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. A study last year by Massachusetts researchers concluded that drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks increases the chance of childhood obesity.
The National Soft Drinks Association, an industry group, argues that sodas are being unfairly blamed for childhood obesity. Sean McBride, a spokesman for the group counters, “physical education and physical activity are by far more important in combating obesity than banning soft drinks from students’ diets.”
Today juvenile obesity is rocking an escalating number of households. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in October 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight or obese (double the number of 20 years ago); so are 2- to 5-year olds. With that surge has come a raft of related health problems. Gallbladder disease among children has tripled; sleep related breathing disruptions have quintupled; and type 2 diabetes -- with its attendant risks of blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, even death has doubled, afflicting an estimated 300,000 American youngsters.
Our children clearly need to be protected from money hungry soda retailers and critics seeking to line their pockets. Banning the sale of soft drinks in our schools won’t wipe out childhood obesity, but it’s a start. If LAUD had the courage to put our children’s health over the $4.5 million worth of sodas sold annually at its campuses SO CAN WE.

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