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Published in Print: September 10, 2003, as School Soda Sales Lose Fizz With Calif. Lawmakers

School Soda Sales Lose Fizz With Calif. Lawmakers

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Most California public schools would be barred from selling sodas under a measure designed to help prevent childhood obesity that passed the legislature late last month.

The legislation would prohibit soda sales in elementary, middle, and junior high schools and would require schools to stock their vending machines with healthier drinks, such as juices, water, and milk.

It would also restrict elementary schools from selling individual portions of foods, such as french fries and doughnuts, that have high fat or high sugar content. Such foods could be sold as part of a full meal.

Last week, proponents were optimistic that Gov. Gray Davis would sign the measure, which was amended to exempt high schools from the bans. Gov. Davis, a Democrat, had not yet taken a position on the bill and has until next month to decide, said a spokesman for the governor.

About 30 percent of California children are overweight, a percentage that has risen dramatically in the past 20 years, according to the legislation.

The 2001 California Physical Fitness Test found that 27 percent of the state's 5th, 7th, and 9th grade students were unfit and overweight. Poor nutrition and a lack of exercise have been persistent problems in some of the state's districts, according to the legislation.

'Small First Step'

Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Democrat from the Sacramento area and the sponsor of the bill, has said she finds it hypocritical for schools to profit from selling sodas while teaching children about good nutrition, particularly in light of the state's childhood-obesity statistics.

"Of course eliminating soda will not solve the entire obesity crisis, but it's a significant and appropriate first step," she said in a statement. "Our schools should offer children choices, healthy choices."

The California chapter of the National PTA has supported the measure. The state group says that parents' efforts to instill good nutritional values in their children are being undermined by schools' sales of sodas and junk food.

The Los Angeles-based group interviewed administrators at California districts and schools that have already banned sodas, and found that those schools did not see any significant financial losses. In fact, some administrators said that students were buying more juices and other drinks.

Some educators opposed the legislation because vending machines have proved profitable for their schools, and helped defeat defeat of a similar bill last year.

Already, middle schools are prohibited from selling sodas for most of the school day, including lunch periods.

The National Soft Drink Association notes that revenues from soft drinks and other school vending-machine items often pay for sports equipment and after-school activities, which help keep students active, it says. The group opposed the California bill, arguing that parents, not the state, should decide what children eat and drink.

Vol. 23, Issue 2, Page 18

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