School Soda Bans May Not Work

With a growing obesity epidemic, many schools have banned soda and other sugary drinks. The goal is to reduce easy access to unhealthy beverages and thereby improve student health. Yet a new report suggests that these bans may be largely ineffective. Unfortunately, preventing students from indulging in fattening drinks may be more complicated than simply removing them from schools.

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The Failure of Soda Prohibition

New research that was recently published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that banning sugary drinks, like soda and sports drinks, fails to reduce the overall intake of such beverages. Many schools turn to these bans with hopes that they can remove these drinks from students' daily diets. But the report, which included an analysis of nearly 7,000 5th and 8th graders in public schools across 40 states, suggests that such hopes may be overly optimistic.

Schools that banned soda saw no decreases in students having in-school access to and buying sugar-laden drinks, with students often switching from soda to other sugary drinks. Schools with bans on all sugary drinks had students reporting that they didn't buy the drinks at school, but their consumption didn't lessen. Often, students who couldn't buy such drinks at school simply increased consumption at home.

The Need for a Broader Approach

This new report suggests that simply limiting access to sugary drinks while students are in school isn't going to reverse the trend with childhood obesity. Instead, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. Daniel Taber, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher involved with the study, has offered several methods for helping students cut back on unhealthy beverages.

In addition to school bans, states can impose extra taxes on unhealthy foods like sodas and sports drinks. This idea, which is sometimes referred to as a sin tax, is similar to what is currently done with tobacco products. Taber also suggests restricting marketing of sugary drinks to children and focused campaigns that show the consequences of including these drinks in your diet. Again, these ideas were proven in reducing tobacco use among children.

A High Stakes Issue

The motivations behind banning soda in schools are unquestionably noble. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the obesity rate among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980. Over 12 million children, or 17%, are obese. The CDC recommends reducing access to sugary drinks as a way of combatting childhood obesity. Yet the organization also recognizes that this step won't work on its own. Without a more comprehensive attempt at tackling the problem, obesity among children may continue to spiral out of control.

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