(CNSNews.com) - The nation's second largest school system has voted to ban soda pop for students, citing worries that sugary drinks contribute to childhood obesity.
The Los Angeles County School Board Tuesday night voted unanimously to mandate that as of January 2004, neither vending machines nor cafeterias will sell soda. The drinks will be banned even though they add money to school coffers. Instead, students will be offered water, milk, and beverages with at least 50 percent fruit juice. Also available will be "sports drinks" with less than 42 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving.
School board members justified their decision by saying that students' health is more important than money. Some observers predict the ban on soda sales in Los Angeles may prompt other school systems to follow suit.
Alex Contreras, assistant principal of Los Angeles High School, told the Los Angeles Times that his campus stands to lose funding for dances, sports referees and field trips under the proposal and noted that Coca Cola has in the past offered him $50,000 for an exclusive contract.
Board member Julie Korenstein, one of the sponsors of the measure, said it was needed to fight obesity among students. But a soda industry official believes that banning soft drinks isn't the solution.
"In order to impact the obesity problem, policymakers should try to increase the quantity and quality of physical education, rather than isolating any one product as the cause of childhood obesity, which soft drinks clearly are not," said Sean McBride, a spokesman for the National Soft Drink Association.
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) thought the school board decision was "strange," according to spokesman Bruce Friedrich.
"We're certainly no fans of soda, but some of the dairy products that are still in the schools have more than twice the calories and more grams of fat and more sugar than soda. So, it seems like a strange decision to allow a product with twice the calories and more sugar to stay in, while you ban soft drinks," he said.
When asked if milk should be banned from schools, Friedrich said, "Dairy products are horrible for kids and are linked to most of the problems that plague youth, including obesity, but also allergies, attention deficit disorder, ear infections, constipation and none of those things are conducive to a good learning atmosphere."
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige had no reaction. A spokesman said it's a "local decision."
School officials across the country have considered similar policies, but so far only a few, including the Oakland Unified School District in northern California, have actually implemented them. The state of Texas bans the sale of all junk food on its school campuses during lunchtime.
The percentage of overweight American adolescents has more than tripled to 14 percent in the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. More children between the ages of 6 and 11 are heavy, with more than 13 percent of them overweight in 1999, compared to 4 percent in 1965, according to Department of Health and Human Services Statistics.
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