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For Immediate
May 7, 1999

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  Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Press Conference on Free Soda in Schools

Washington, D.C. — At a Press Conference held today at the U.S. Capital, Dr. Michael F. Jacobson made the following statement regarding the free giveaway of soda in schools during the pre-lunch or lunchtime period. Currently there is a ban on the sale of soda during these time periods. The Press Conference was convened by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), James Jeffords (R-Vt.), and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) to unveil legislation that would ban the free sodas.

On behalf of CSPI’s one million members, I applaud Senators Leahy, Jeffords, Kohl, and Feingold and Congressman Hinchey for introducing this important legislation. Actually, it’s outrageous that such legislation is necessary. Whoever imagined that schools -- prohibited from selling sodas in cafeterias -- would give sodas away to bribe kids into eating otherwise nutritious lunches, and, in one school, breakfasts. Those schools are destroying the school lunch in order to save it.

Schools should teach what’s best -- in everything from math to social studies to health. Giving away soda pop in lunchrooms is like handing out horror comic books in English class. If schools cared one whit about their students’ health, they would be encouraging them to drink less, not more, soda.

Soda pop, which we call “liquid candy,” has become teens’ favorite beverage. Twenty years ago, teens drank almost twice as much milk as soda. Now, they drink twice as much soda as milk. The average teen downs more than a can a day, with many drinking three or four cans a day.

All that soda squeezes more nutritious foods out of their diets. Girls, in particular, should be building their bones by consuming plenty of calcium-rich foods instead of sugar-rich soda. There is evidence that girls who drink a lot of soda have a higher rate of bone fractures than other girls. Later in life, of course, they’ll probably have a greater risk of osteoporosis.

Soda is also a big source of calories for many students. It’s probably no coincidence that as soda consumption has doubled in the past 20 years, so has the rate of obesity in teenagers.

This legislation won’t cure students’ dietary problems, but it would plug a recently exploited loophole in the law. I hope that legislators, regardless of political party, care enough about the integrity of the school-food program and students’ health that they will speed this legislation through Congress.