Soda Companies Have ‘Excessive Power’ Over School Distribution, Study Finds
Soda companies have "excessive power" in marketing their products to public school students in California school districts that are "desperate for cash," according to a new study, the Riverside Press Enterprise reports (Seaton, Riverside Press Enterprise, 4/4). Soda, which is high in sugar and calories but has little nutritional value, is linked to childhood obesity, tooth decay and decreased consumption of nutritious beverages (Public Health Institute release, 4/4). Researchers at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley sent surveys to the 25 largest state school districts, questioning their soda contracts and the distribution of soda in school buildings. All of the 20 responding districts made soda available to their students, the report found. In 15 districts, soda availability was decided by individual schools, while in five districts, soda availability was a district-wide decision. The report, which was funded by the California Endowment, concluded that "beverage companies have mounted successful efforts to establish and maintain a strong presence" in California public schools and that both soda companies and school districts "gain financially when students and their families" buy soda at school. The report also noted that some school districts "view soda contracts as business tools" that bring them needed revenue, and that consequently the "nutritional impact of soda on children may be lost" (Purcell, "Prevalence and Specifics of District-wide Beverage Contracts in California's Largest School Districts," April 2002).
Study lead researcher Amanda Purcell said, "Analysis of the district-wide contracts showed that health recommendations are rarely integrated into" the negotiations with soda companies. She added that school districts must often "sacrifice student health for much-needed funds" (PHI release, 4/4). The report makes many recommendations for limiting students' soda consumption, including:
- Funding schools and student activities adequately to reduce school districts' reliance on money from soda contracts;
- Setting lower prices for "healthy beverages" in schools such as 100% fruit juice, water and low-fat milk;
- Eliminating school advertising for unhealthy beverages;
- Establishing "autonomous school district control" for soda contracts; and
- Eliminating soda-contract confidentiality clauses ("Prevalence and Specifics of District-wide Beverage Contracts in California's Largest School Districts," April 2002).
State Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has proposed a bill (SB 1520) that would tax soft drink syrup and use the money to pay for obesity-treatment programs (Riverside Press Enterprise, 4/4). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.