California state Senate OK's
school soda ban
Child advocates' crusade moves
by Ed Fletcher, Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2003; distributed
by Parents Advocating School Accountability, San Francisco,
For more articles like this
Senate votes to move the fizz off-campus
Departing sharply from the years
when school districts were signing multimillion-dollar contracts
with soft drink companies, legislation approved Thursday by the
state Senate would ban most soda sales at California schools.
The legislation, which narrowly cleared the 40-member body on a
22-15 vote, now faces Assembly scrutiny.
Health advocates more than ever are pointing toward soda as a
source of problems in children, including increased rates of
obesity, tooth decay and diabetes. Some 30 percent of children
in California are overweight or at risk of being overweight,
according to one recent study.
Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, an
Oregon-based organization that fights marketing efforts to
children, applauded passage of the bill. "Schools ought to help
teach good nutrition and not abet junk food companies' promotion
of junk food," Ruskin said.
"Schools ought to side with the parents, not side with greedy
junk food companies."
Carried by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, SB 677 would
prohibit the sale of carbonated beverages to pupils in
elementary, middle or junior high schools after Sept. 1, 2005.
The ban of soda sales to high school students would apply only
to on-campus activities during the school day and would kick in
Sept. 1, 2006.
Drinks for sale during school hours would be limited to water,
milk and 100 percent juice products. High schools also would be
allowed to sell sports drinks.
The legislation is being fought by the California Chamber of
Commerce, the California Automatic Vendors Council, the
California-Nevada Sof Drink Association and the California
School Food Service Association.
"We think the issue of childhood obesity runs a lot deeper than
drinking soda," said Robert Ackerman, executive director of the
soft drink association. "Banning soft drinks is not the solution
to (childhood obesity)."
Ackerman and his colleagues with the National Soft Drink
Association said the Legislature would be more productive if it
put its energy into health and physical education programs.
"Each day that we focus on gimmick solutions -- like banning
soft drinks -- we delay meaningful work," said Sean McBride, of
the national association.
School food service operators have argued that trendier food
items and soda sales help subsidize meal offerings. In a letter
opposing the measure, the food service association said SB 677
would "severely affect the financial stability" of school food
Ackerman and McBride said drinking soda, like consuming other
not-so-healthy food, is fine, so long as it is part of a
"I'm going to rely on the pediatricians, the dentists, the
endocrinologists, the heart association who have all
consistently said this product is not only devoid of any
nutritional value ... but actually compromises student health in
terms of bone density, as well as tooth decay, and as well as
pre-diabetes and high insulin loads," said Ortiz, who heads the
Senate Health and Human Services Committee and has made
childhood obesity one of her key issues.
Last year, she lost her bid for legislation to place a surcharge
on sodas to pay for programs combating childhood obesity.
"We have a huge problem of childhood obesity and teen obesity
... and one of the aspects of that is a high-sugar,
no-nutritional-value product that appears to be significantly
increasing in consumption," she said Thursday.
As school districts struggled to find funds in the 1990s, some
turned to soda companies that were offering cash for exclusive
sales and marketing contracts.
Ortiz said the Legislature -- by not spending enough money on
education -- was partially to blame for that. Lawmakers reacted
by making it harder for districts to make secret deals with soda
"School districts regarded it as a certain source of revenue,"
said Ortiz, whose legislation does not propose any replacement
for the schools' lost revenue.
The tide is also turning at the school-district level, with
several having banned soda sales on their own.
"They have risen above the sexiness of a revenue stream," said
Ortiz, "because they realize how important they are in dealing
with childhood obesity."
"There are some things that are too important to be for sale,"
Ruskin added, "and our schools, our children and their health
are three good examples."
For more information on school food issues, and for a free
downloadable guide to getting rid of junk food at your child's
school, go to