TCS Daily

Soda Pop Myopia

By Jonathan Robison, PhD, MS - May 15, 2006 12:00 AM

The United States Government and Health Establishment were clearly elated recently with the announcement of the latest major public health breakthrough. Former president Bill Clinton called it a "bold step forward in the struggle to help America's kids live healthier lives." Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said the breakthrough would address one of the most critical challenges facing our nation. American Heart Association President Robert Eckel, MD, called it "groundbreaking."

So, what could be so wonderful, so groundbreaking, such a bold step forward for the public health? A successful hydrogen-powered car to clean up the environment? Legislation to guarantee health insurance for the millions of American children who have none? A cure for AIDS?

Well, guess again. Actually, it turns out that all the fuss is over an agreement to ban soda pop in elementary and middle schools. That's right. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation -- a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and The American Heart Association (working with the Food and Beverage Association and several of the largest companies that sell beverages to schools) -- have come up with new guidelines for what our kids can and can't drink in school.

Why all this fuss over soda pop? Well, hysteria over the so-called "childhood obesity epidemic" has increased pressure on government to make it look as though something is being done. A scapegoat that would engender minimal resistance was clearly called for -- and sweetened, carbonated beverages in the schools fit the bill perfectly. After all, soda pop doesn't provide us with any benefits (aside from pleasure and energy), most elementary schools haven't sold sodas for years anyway, and soda pop has been losing considerable market share to other, lower calorie drinks in recent years -- even in middle schools.

Ironically, though, little research suggests that taking these drinks out of the schools will necessarily decrease the amount children drink anyway, particularly in middle school years and beyond when they begin to be able to buy their own. What does the research say about the efficacy of this approach for impacting our children's health? Not surprisingly, the data are mixed, at best. In fact, most studies have been unable to find an association between the ingestion of the kinds of drinks being targeted and children's weights, and when associations have been found the relationships have generally not been large enough to be of particular significance.

Science never seems to get in the way of politics, however, as Clinton spokesman Jay Carson made quite clear when he called the initiative "a bold and sweeping step that industry and childhood obesity advocates have decided to take together."

But if the action of banning sodas won't do any good, what harm is there really in taking it? After all, children are certainly not going to be nutritionally deprived as a result of the new guidelines.

Unfortunately, this "benign" intervention isn't without the potential for unwanted negative consequences.

The most obvious problem (depending upon whose shoes one is wearing, of course) is the distraction all the hoopla around soda creates. There are certainly, in this country, critical issues regarding childhood health that need to be addressed. As mentioned above there is the issue of the lack of health insurance. Then there is the little matter of the 8 million or so kids who live below the poverty line. Placing a ban on soda in schools at the top of the list of priorities when resources of all kinds are in short supply seems myopic, to say the least.

A second problem, directly related to the issue of childhood obesity, is that this focus on obesity in kids is no more likely to be successful, or benign, than it has been for adults. Perhaps no experiment in the field of health has been more of an abject failure than has the attempt to get adults to be thinner by restricting what they eat. People seem to want something even more when they are not allowed to have it -- the forbidden fruit. Remember how well Prohibition worked? There is no reason to believe that the focus on making children thinner will be any more successful and lots of reasons to believe that it will promote even more of the same unhealthy behaviors, preoccupation with body image and short-sighted health attitudes that it has for their parents.

Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, is the old "slippery-slope" problem. There is no indication that the government or the health establishment intends this to be the last word in regulation. In fact, these guidelines also include directives relating to the school sale of other beverages as well, including milk, fruit juices and sports drinks. Initiatives are afoot in various parts of the country to restrict and/or eliminate from schools a wide variety of other so-called "junk foods" deemed to be dangerous, "fattening" and unhealthy. Some schools already have banned cupcakes and the like when celebrating student's birthdays. And numerous calls have been made for increasing the taxes on many of these same foods to discourage their consumption. Where is this all likely to go next, and where is it likely to end? And who will make these decisions for us? Are we comfortable having the government tell our children what they can and cannot eat?

While there is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to improve school meals (they have never been all that great), what about the issues of balance and choice? What about having our children "learn by doing" about choosing and eating a variety of foods? And what about relying a bit more on our children's innate, internal signals (along, certainly with some wise parental guidance) to determine what and how much to eat?

These approaches are certainly more difficult than following someone else's rules and regulations and restricting access to the "dangerous" foods du jour. But, in the long run, it would definitely be a lot more enjoyable, and probably a lot better for the public health as well.

Jonathan Robison holds a Doctoral degree in health education/exercise physiology and a Master of Science in human nutrition from Michigan State University where he's an assistant professor.


a small step
The author is a nutritionist. He should know that simple carbs that digest quickly and lead to spiking blood sugars, which make it hard for kids to concentrate and leave them hungry in the afternoon. More slowly digested foods will make the school day easier for them. It's a shame that it takes the political pull of the most popular past president since Washington to overcome soda company lobbyists on this simple issue.

No, this won't cure obesity overnight. Like smoking, obesity is hard to fight, but progress can be made if we keep at it.

Most popular past president since Washington?
Come on. Compared to Harry, Ike, the Gipper and FDR? You must have only asked Monica when you took your poll.

High Fructose Corn Syrup
I both agree with the author and yet want the soda pop banned.

"While there is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to improve school meals (they have never been all that great), what about the issues of balance and choice? What about having our children "learn by doing" about choosing and eating a variety of foods? And what about relying a bit more on our children's innate, internal signals (along, certainly with some wise parental guidance) to determine what and how much to eat?"

He's right. Of course. But I know people who do not have balance in their diets. Their "learning by doing" is learning that Cheese crispies are yummy, while an ounce of cheese is not so much. Pop is "good" and orange juice is "okay." I've seen this over and over. I've been a junk food junkie. It's taken me YEARS to quit.

And the thing about internal signals is this:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is intensely sweet. It isn't digested like normal sugars. According to The Scwarzbein Principle, a book I'm studying, HFCS doesn't get your body chemistry to signal to your brain that you've had enough. Something about Leptin.

So, I think it's overwhelmingly normal nowdays that kids--and worst of all their parents--don't ever feel hungry anymore and fullness takes a lot more calories to achieve.

I don't like Clinton and I think this "revolutionary new step" thing is dumb. People will eat it up, of course. But let's get the soda out of schools. Once a soda would be a treat. Now it's a water replacement for careless people.

It's a public health issue.

But I agree with the author too!

bans don't work
Those kids who no longer can grab a can of pop in school will probably grab a "big gulp" or the equivalent on the way home.

However, the trend toward "big gulps", "supersize me," "quarter-pounders," and all the rest is IMHO, a watershed change from what prevailed when I was growing up. But it started changing when Pepsi added one more ounce to compete with the 7-ounce Coca-Cola.

But don't blame the sellers, they're selling what we're buying. Period.

True That!
My 11 year old says that phrase.

My kids' schools have pop machines that they can purchase from when school gets out.

Pop used to be made with regular sugar too.

Instead of addressing the supply of the pop, they need to address the demand for it. People need to know the truth about that stuff. It's not just "empty calories," it's systems out of balance.

But all I can control is what my family eats at home. We don't have soda, chips, and most of the time even commercial white bread.

My kid has a friend who comes over and won't eat any of our food. It's not to his liking. His mom serves sugar cereal, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and coke. But at least we can both agree that at dinner time, it's time for him to go home. Along with the crap food they eat, this kid is quite a pro at video games.

help me out please
I was trying to think of more popular past presidents. FDR never was a past president, nor was Lincoln. Truman was pretty unpopular. I don't know how Ike polled, but Clinton certainly polled higher than the Gipper, who was not, in fact, that popular (except among conservatives).

Maybe Teddy Roosevelt or Andrew Jackson? Help me out.

soda in schools




If you can't convince them, force them?
If you are not happy with the kids' decisions, at least let the parents decide, huh? People are showing that they like to drink soda. Fructose corn syrup and all.

If you cannot convince them by your arguments, Lisa, do you really think it is acceptible to use force?

Some Fundamental Corrections
As other contributors have pointed out, sugar in all its forms, particularly high fructose corn syrup, if used regularly or heavily, is a health risk and brain buster. But other sweeteners, such as aspartame, may be worse.
The widespread availability of these brain and behavioral buster sweeteners in schools, often to the exclusion of far more healthful foods, translates to approval of their ingestion and consequent heavier use by students than would otherwise obtain. And that is why they should be banished from the schools
Jean Carper in her YOUR MIRACLE BRAIN, 2000, Harper
Collins, gives at page 47
1. Make fruits and vegetable the major part of your diet.
2. Eat poultry without skin, or very lean meats and game.
3. Eat dried beans-legumes of all kinds, including peanuts, preferably unsalted.
4. Eat nuts, notable walnuts and almonds.
5. Eat fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), shellfish.
6. Restrict omega-6 fats (especially corn oil) hydrogenated vegetable oils, and
trans-fatty acids.
7. Restrict sugar and sodium.
8. Restrict processed foods.
9. Take vitamin-mineral supplements, because it is impossible to totally imitate a
nutrient-rich Stone-Age diet without a boost from supplements.
10. Take fish oil capsules, especially if you don’t eat fish several times a week.
And, at page 139, she lists
[1] Sugar replaces high vitamin and mineral foods, creating a deficit in nutrients the brain needs to function optimally.
[2] Some studies find that kids on high-sugar diets do worse on IQ tests, get
Poorer grades, and have more mood swings.
[3] Certain children, such as those with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, are often super-sensitive to high sugar intakes. PET scans show
Their brains do not burn glucose efficiently. High blood sugar stimulates a greater release of cortisol - the “fight or flight” hormone-in such children.
[4] A chronic high intake of refined sugar at an early age is associated with poor
attention spans in both normal and hyperactive children.
[5] High intakes of simple sugars, found in soft drinks and other processed
foods, cause cellular damage (AGEs or glycation) in animals, known to promote nerve damage, premature aging in the animals, and possibly degenerative brain diseases including Alzheimer,s.

As to the effects of fish oil on student performance, see See The Durham (UK) school district got astounding, continuing and enduring improvements in student academic and behavioral performance with thrice daily fish oil supplements for preschoolers and for 12 to 14 year olds. My experience is that it does the same for retirees, particularly when bound to proteins by mixing with nonfat yogurt, as in the Johanna Budwig (online) diet.

Dumbest thing I've ever seen
The point is simple. Kids will leave campus and go to 7/11 to get a slurpee or a soda. This is useless and of no consequence, yet the slippery slope the author of this article mentions is real and obvious.

As for Clinton's popularity vs. Reagans; come on… clinton never pulled more than 48% of the vote in either election and, I am pretty sure, he isn't held in high esteem by that many Americans now. Reagan was much more popular both at election time and after he left office.

Teddy R. was also pretty well liked after he left the Whitehouse. Ike was considered something of a bumbler but he also remained likeable and had is war record to back him up.

you want me to continue? Clinton is lucky if he makes the top 10 on any list of Presidents. I take that back, he was only the 3rd (4th?) president to be impeached. By golly, I guess he does have a legacy afterall!!

was the second to be impeached. Nixon wasn't impreached, he was man enough to resign before things could reach that stage.

flawed obesity stats

the BMIs are so flawed that they are designed to show overweight and obesity in everyone. these epidemics are designed by definitions and not by much more.

i have 3 kids at home. one runs and lifts weights 3 times a week. he is overweight, yet has a 29 - 30 in waist. another is muscular and is obese. he too has a 30 inch waist. the last is in the normal range, but if you look at him he looks weak and anemic.

look around at all of the exceptions, then decide if these reports are nonsense.

research is dependant on investigating crisis. if the results show no problem, the research funds could dry up. scientists are people just like lawyers and politicians. read them carefully. don't just give them a pass.

Paul, I have contrary evidence about Clinton
Today's Rocky Mountain News has a column by Paul Campos in which he laments the glory days of Clinton and wishes Clinton would run again.

Memories wash away, don't they. Consequences of choices? What's that?

I'm proud of Bush for taking all the crap he's getting from all sides. Being well liked is like being sugar.

Caps Lock On
Turn your caps lock off, please.

As to the major health problem, you obviously read only the mass media. The science does NOT support any such problem.


Campos column isn't contrary evidence
If you took a poll to find the most well liked ex-president of the past 40 years, I doubt Clinton would ranke higher than #3. I don't think that poll has been done, but the results would be interesting.

Your right, my bad
I was thinking he resigned after the house vote, but it was after a "straw-poll" showed he would be impeached.

Nothing wrong with pop
I see nothing wrong with pop. I never read any science behind the hype that says high fructose corn syrup is bad for you, notice the words fructose, corn, syrup, my mom used to use that when cooking all the time. Never developed diebetes. Sugar by the way doesn't cause diebetes if it did everyone would be diebetic as every one eats alot of it everyday.

Fructose is found in fruits, and so is sucrose, so all this hype is crap. It is found in other sources as well, fructose takes longer to metabolise. it has to be converted in the liver first to glucose, while the glucose in sucrose goes right to work.

This is really a red herring. Designed to deal with the more important issues, and the real culprit of obesity. Diets. (I define diets as any eating pattern or non eating pattern designed to lose weight). This is the culprit. Not any particular food or food enviroment.

the mass media is owned by corporations and government entities, tho they don't tell you that. They control them indirectly by funding them. So the diet industry would like nothing more than for people to believe that eating too much, or eating certain foods are bad for you so buy our diet enhanced foods.

The diet industry is a 40 billion dollar enterprise, meaning not just weight loss centers, but magezines, pills, drinks, and of course diet pop and books.

So if the government feels in it's right to dictate to children, who are under their parents guidance and rights, then what is to stop them from implementing any legislation they want to force us to eat or not eat certain foods, and to show favors to their corporate friends who can get rid of competition and force us to buy their product which means much higher prices and greater profits.

Why not let free markets dictate what is what in regards to eating. why not leave the raising of kids to parents. After all if we legislate everything that is deemed unhealthy, then you have to force people to walk, and ban all vehicles, as they are very dangerous, and thousands die every year in auto accidents, or ban drugs because 100,000 die every year from drug reactions. This raises the cost to all of us. So if food control for weight management is justified for health reasons then so is banning all cars, all mountain climbing should be banned, no one should be allowed to ride a motorcycle, or ride a horse since that sport is very dangerous and many are injuried and killed. And since this costs all of us then these people shouldnt' be raising our costs by living so dangerously.

Than you have to ban hang gliding, sky diving, swimming with sharks, ban all sports as they are dangerous thousands of children especially are injuried by them, so more people are injuried in these activities, let alone by drinking pop.

That is way more than any obese numbers dropping dead due to fat or due to their diets. so we have to keep things in perspective, and we have to take things we hear on the tv and in newspapers and what politicians tell us with a grain of salt, they lie, distract, use red herrings, and mislead us all the time for their hidden agendas. They cannot be trusted to look out for anyone.


It is caused by other factors, but sugar is not one of them.

In my first message I meant they use this soda thing to avoid dealing with more important issues.

Well first of all, we are in agreement that diets aren't good for us overall, and that government shouldn't be the food police. Government is not supposed to try to take care of you like your mom and dad.

I think HFCS and soda pop consumption is a little different than the situation of using corn syrup in your popcorn balls. I think it's allergenic in a way that makes you crave more and more. And I know people won't be stopped from consuming it. But I think if a school wants to stop selling pop, they must stop.

TCS Daily Archives