Study Shows Progress in Getting Soft Drinks out of Schools, Still Two-Thirds of School Beverage Sales are Sugary Drinks

Statement of CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan


The good news is that soft drinks sales are declining in schools. The bad news is the majority of school beverages are still sugary drinks.

We applaud the soft drink industry for coming over to the right side of this issue last year when it struck a deal with President Clinton and the American Heart Association to help shift the beverage mix in schools. Soft drinks are the number one source of calories in teens’ diets and the only individual food directly linked to obesity.

However, it’s likely that mandatory policies adopted by states and local school districts have had more of an impact on drink sales in schools than the industry’s voluntary standards. Limits on soda sales have been coming into effect over the past few years in Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey, and other states. Congress required every school district to implement a wellness policy to address vending machines and other school foods by 2006.

The increase in bottled water sales is good news. But I’m concerned about the growing share of so-called sports drinks, which are little more than sugar water with added salt. If kids are switching from Coke to Powerade, that’s limited progress; it’s just going from the fire back up into the frying pan.

Given that two-thirds of high school beverage sales are still sugary drinks, voluntary industry action and a patchwork of state and local policies are not enough to solve the problem. The time has come for Congress to pass Senator Harkin’s bill to update and strengthen the national standards for foods and drinks sold in schools—a bill that the beverage industry seems to finally have dropped its opposition to. But national nutrition standards should clearly exclude so-called sports drinks, as the Institute of Medicine has recommended.

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