Is New York City s new deal with Snapple hypocrisy, nutritional naivete, or just a financial a boost to the educational system? Perhaps all of the above.
Last fall, sugary snacks were banned from vending machines in New York City Public Schools despite the revenue they provide for the financially stressed educational system. The ban, which suggested that the city desired to put the health of children first, was issued in response to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicating an obesity epidemic among city children. One dietary recommendation of this and similar studies was to decrease children's caloric consumption. Today, cafeteria trays are piled high with low-sugar lunches, while vending machines are chockfull of "healthy alternatives" to candy and soda, alternatives like bottled water, energy bars, low-salt pretzels, and soon Snapple.
In order to comply with the new guidelines and seal a $126 million deal with the city, Snapple has formulated a new line of drinks called Snapple 100% Juiced! According to some city officials, the deal will bring back the much-needed revenue provided by vending machines $8 million per year for this particular deal while helping to foster healthier habits in city children. But despite the pretense of a sharp contrast between the nutritional values of Coca-Cola and Snapple, comparing the two may be comparing a doughnut to a doughnut in an orange's clothing.
The main ingredients in these "100% Juice" beverages, besides water, are juice concentrates, which are generally low in the natural fiber of whole fruits, and have added sugar, thus increasing caloric content. Indeed, an 11.5-ounce container of Juiced! has 160-170 calories and 41 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons). On the other hand, a 12-ounce can of blacklisted Coca-Cola has only 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. In addition, the juice concentrates used apple, grape, and pear are among the least nutritious fruits but are added simply because they dilute well and have an appealing taste. They are also the least expensive.
The only characteristic of these Snapple juices that make them marginally more nutritious than non-caffeinated sodas is that they are fortified with 10% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, 100% of vitamin C, 20% of vitamin D, and 10% of calcium. This makes them little more than nutrient-fortified sugar-water. With this as a standard for "healthy," by adding the daily requirement of vitamin C and some other nutrients to their caffeine-free products a technologically simple task Coca-Cola could easily find its way back into public schools. If extra calories are the reason for obesity in public school children, switching to Snapple won't be of any health benefit at all. (But the extra money the schools rake in might just get them the sports equipment they need to make the kids more physically active...)
Aubrey Stimola is a Research Intern for the American Council on Science and Health.
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