Blog: Chris Brook-CarterFat chance

Chris Brook-Carter | 13 July 2005

Is today’s news that Alabama has joined a number of other US states in banning or limiting soft drink sales in vending machines at public schools draconian, enlightened or, as one politician has labelled it, a cop-out?

A health plan, aimed at reducing child obesity in the state, rules that vending machines in elementary schools cannot contain carbonated soft drinks, such as Coke and Pepsi.

Vending machines in middle schools must limit carbonated drinks to no more than 30% of the selections, and half of those must be diet versions. In high schools' vending machines, up to 50% of the drink selections can be carbonated drinks, but half of those must be diet versions.

It is hard to argue with the ban in elementary schools. These are our most vulnerable consumers and everything should be done to protect them.

Despite protestations from some corners that the total ban on CSDs should be expanded to include all schools - State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, who wanted a total ban, said the board gave in to the soft drink industry – the limitations also appear, to me, to be prudent.

Teenagers in particular are going to consume CSDs if they want to, in the quantities they want to, whether there is a ban or not. At least, imposing the limitation on the vending machines allows young adults to make choices. It is now down to the schools and parents to educate their children to make the right choices as part of a balanced diet.

What worries me about this plan is that, once more, the soft drinks and food industries are being used as scapegoats for the lack of food education and exercise children receive in the US and across Europe.

This latest policy does nothing to increase the physical education requirements for Alabama's public schools, for example.

Food and drink are, without doubt, part of the obesity problem. But they are not the be all and end all to solving this crisis. Unless some balance is achieved in the argument, we are never going to find a workable, long-term solution to the worrying levels of obesity amongst the West’s youth.


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