A recent study reported yesterday by the New York Times Well blog indicates they may be.
The study, published in this week’s The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, looked at the sugary drink consumption of 7,000 fifth and eighth graders over a three-year period and its first conclusion isn’t so surprising: when schools banned only soda but not other sugary drinks, sugary beverage purchases on campus did not drop as compared to schools with no beverage ban at all.
This points up the hollowness of a soda-only ban, which is what we now have here in Houston ISD; under our “pouring rights” contract with Coca-Cola, our middle and high school students can still purchase Minute Maid fruit drinks and Powerade from vending machines on campus.
It was the study’s second finding that was really discouraging. On campuses where all sugary beverages were banned, students’ access to the beverages understandably dropped but their overall consumption of sugary drinks remained the same, implying that they were simply getting their sugary drinks off campus in the same quantities.
[One thing worth noting: the study looked at the period between 2004 – 2007, when many districts were first instituting soda bans. I’d like to say the age of the data casts doubt on the findings, but there’s no evidence that I know of to support the notion that kids’ soda and sugary beverage consumption has gone down in the last four or five years.]
The finding that kids will get their sugary drinks regardless of a school ban only points up the degree to which childhood obesity is a deeply complex problem, and one which isn’t entirely the school’s responsibility . As I wrote in my comment on the Well blog post:
. . . . there’s only so much one can do at school to address the multi-faceted problem of childhood obesity. It’s home + school + marketing/media + lack of exercise + widespread availability of cheap, caloric foods. Each one of those pieces of the puzzle needs to be addressed . . . .
But as another Well commenter named Susan pointed out, there’s an equally important reason to ditch sugary beverages in schools:
There is something to be said for taking the moral high ground, even if it doesn’t reduce total sugar consumption. Setting an example is also important.
I couldn’t agree more.