Sneaking sugary drinks back into schools

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Day Care & Education

Last year, when the nation's three largest beverage companies agreed to remove their sugary drinks from school vending machines, they were applauded. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes voluntarily agreed to offer only water, low-fat milk and 100 percent juice in elementary and middle schools. In high schools, they would also offer sports drinks and light juices. Since they made these changes voluntarily, they must really care about our children's health, right? Maybe, but their corporate concern for the well-being of America's children was short-lived. After the applause died down, they quietly sought and received an amendment to the agreement.

Originally, they agreed to provide only sports drinks and light juices under 66 calories per eight ounces to high schools. In the amended agreement, the wording was changed to include "other drinks" under 66 calories per eight ounces. This allows enhanced water beverages such as sugar-laden Vitaminwater and Propel to be sold alongside regular water.

Margo Wootan, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says, "This is a huge loophole that will bring lots more sugar and calories into kids' diets." She claims these enhanced waters are nothing more than sugar water with vitamins added. Vitamins most children don't even need.

Dr. Carlos A. Camargo, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, says the answer to the problem of calorie and sugar-laden drinks in our schools is as simple as fixing the water fountains. "It has zero calories, zero artificial sweeteners, zero stimulants and - if the schools made sure that their drinking fountains actually worked - it could be provided throughout the school day at NO COST to students," he says.

But Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Senate agriculture committee, has a better idea. "For the sake of our children's health, Congress should pass science-based school nutrition standards that cannot be altered at the request of just a few parties and without public input."

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