School ban on sugary drinks amounts to just an empty can

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Banning soda in schools is an increasingly common response to the high rate of obesity among kids. However, one of the first studies to specifically examine the impact of these bans on what students consume finds that they fall flat.

The study, just published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, looked at soda and sweetened beverage consumption among 7,000 fifth and eighth grade students across the U.S. It turns out that kids all over drank about the same amount of sugary beverages, regardless of what sort of policies their schools had in place during the 2004 to 2007 study. In the schools where soda alone was banned, about 29 percent of students purchased other sugary drinks at school; in schools with no ban at all, the proportion was 26 percent. Furthermore, in schools that banned all sugary beverages from campus, students overall consumption of these drinks did not decline at all. These students clearly compensated for not being able to purchase sugary drinks at school by getting these beverages from home or elsewhere, notes ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross.

What s to be done? Study author Dr. Daniel R. Tabor, from the University of Illinois, Chicago, advocates more comprehensive laws, such as beverage taxes and marketing regulations. Yet, if anything, the results of this study demonstrate that such top-down approaches to influencing behavior are rarely effective. As we frequently observe in Dispatch, targeting a single component of the complex problem of obesity is a simplistic approach. Instead of spending time and resources on restrictive measures that do little good, administrators and parents might have better luck reconsidering the often lackluster phys-ed programs in their children s schools. ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava put it very well when we last covered this issue: It s been widely demonstrated that regular physical activity is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle. Instead of focusing only on which foods kids should or shouldn t eat, it would make more sense to instill a positive attitude toward exercise in school children.