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Myth #1: If We Ban Soda, We Will Lose Money

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Dear Dr. Levister:

The Coke machines are gone from my child’s elementary school campus. However, our son’s high school campus boosts five soft drink machines. The principal says, "if we ban soda we will lose money." How can I counter his claims?

Mad Mom

Dear Mad Mom: Last summer armed with strong data that vending machines fatten schools‚ wallets, students‚ bellies, the Vines Medical Society called on local districts to ban sodas from all school campus. The California Legislator's ban on the sale of junk food in elementary and middle school campuses took affect in August 2003.

But junk food sales are robust at high schools despite massive efforts aimed at improving the health of all students by snubbing out sugar loaded drinks and snacks. Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country unanimously passed a motion banning soda sales in every school throughout the district.

Here are some Facts versus Myths from The Center for Food & Justice at Occidental College and LAUSD's parent/teacher based Healthy Food Coalition:

Myth #1: If we ban soda, we will lose lots of funding for after school activities; Schools which believe they rely on income from sales of unhealthy foods are understandably reluctant to risk eliminating junk food. This argument completely overlooks real health concerns and facts that thirsty students who cannot buy soda will buy healthier beverages -- bottled water, 100%, fruit juice or milk if they are available at a reasonable cost.

Myth #2: The soft drink companies help our schools by donating scoreboards, uniforms and other equipment: That's an old tobacco company argument. The soft drink companies help themselves by building brand loyalty among kids in their quest for lifetime customers. Adequate funding of the schools is the responsibility of the government; it is one of the reasons we pay taxes. Yes schools need money, but turning to commercial sales for income at the expense of our children's health is a cop-out.

Myth #3: Kids won’t buy healthy foods from vending machines; Not true. Despite claims that students would never give up their favorite junk foods, research shows that students will buy healthy foods and drinks if the price is right. Last September eleven LAUSD schools replaced all but one of their eight soda machines with water and nutritional low-sugar drink machines. A can of soda cost $1.25.

Bottled water was 75 cents. Last fall, water outsold sodas and juices by a wide margin compared to the same period the previous year.

The debate over soda and junk food in our schools is complex, highly charged and politically influenced. Go online for important research and organizing strategies that might prove useful as you tackle your schools. Check out LAUSD Healthy Beverage Campaign at: www.uepi.oxy.edu or on the web type in: banning junk food in our schools.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502. For more information about your Black health visit African American Health Network at www.aahn.com.

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