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Kids still consuming sugary drinks, despite school bans

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Banning sodas and other sugar beverages in schools not enough, finds study.

Banning sugar drinks in schools is only a start for curbing obesity among youth. Schools that ban sodas and other high calorie beverages are taking steps forward to reduce the burden of childhood obesity. But researchers say banning sugar sweetened beverages in schools – just sodas, all sugary drinks, or none at all – has little impact on overall consumption of the beverages among teens.

The study, published in the JAMA journal, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, compared the impact of banning just sodas versus all sugar sweetened beverages or no bans in schools.

The investigators, from the University of Illinois at Chicago found youth still consumed the same amount of sugary drinks, regardless of whether they could be obtained at school.

The study, led by Daniel R. Taber, Ph.D., M.P.H., looked at schools in 40 states; 6,900 students from public schools were included.

What they discovered is that individual state policies about offering sugar laden drinks in schools had no impact on how many of the beverages students drink.

From questionnaires, about 85 percent of youth sad they had a sugary drink within the past 7 days; 26 to 33 percent said they had a sweetened beverage daily.

"To summarize, state policies regulating beverages sold in middle schools were associated with reduced in-school sugar-sweetened beverage access and purchasing only if they banned all sugar-sweetened beverages," the authors write.

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The researchers say kids still had access to and bought sugar sweetened beverages regardless of whether policies banned only soda or had no policy at all. Even when all of the beverages are removed from schools, consumption was the same.

States that ban all of the drinks are still more successful than those that ban just sodas in school.

The authors say "In the past 25 years, sources of energy intake among youth have shifted toward greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and high-calorie fruit drinks.

The Institute of Medicine recommended that all sugar-sweetened beverages be banned in schools, but many state competitive food policies have focused primarily on soda while allowing sports drinks, fruit drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages."

In order for a program to be effective, the researchers say states have to look at the whole picture when developing policies.

Taber says, "I wouldn't see this as a failure, it's just that that's not going to be enough. To reduce sweetened beverage consumption, and ultimately to reduce obesity, it's going to take more comprehensive policy initiatives."

Higher soda taxes and restricting marketing of the drinks to youth have been suggested.

Sodas and other sugared beverages are empty calories to kids with no nutritional value. Consumption of the drinks contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes, which is increasingly being diagnosed in younger age groups.

The study that examined sweet beverage consumption habits among 8th graders shows more may need to be done to curb consumption of sugar sweetened beverages among teens. Kids still have access to the drinks and they say they’re still drinking them regularly - but just not at school.