Campus soda pop losing its fizz

Freelance writer who lives in Chico

Now that soda pop has toppled off the food pyramid in the nation’s second-largest school district, it’s high time for Chico schools to follow suit.

The Los Angeles Unified School District already prohibited soda sales at elementary schools, following legislation Gov. Gray Davis signed last year. That district’s school board recently voted in favor of extending the ban to its approximately 200 middle and high schools. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted board member Julie Korenstein saying, “This is the right thing to do for children.”

You’d think it would be obvious that not providing readily available soda pop to students engaged in the serious work of learning was the “right thing to do for children.” Unfortunately, the Chico Unified School District has not yet identified the absence of soda machines on campus as being in the best interests of its learners.

Much research supports the notion that carbonated soda beverages provide negligible nutritive benefit to the human body and, in fact, can adversely affect our physical well being in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most alarming is the havoc soda pop wreaks on kids’ teeth. Ask any dentist about the long-term effects of bathing teeth in sugary, citric fluid day after day.

Obesity is another health hazard. Many articles in the past several months have addressed the rotundity of a high percentage of Americans, including children (14 percent of children 6­19 are classified as obese or overweight, according to the Chronicle). Soda guzzling plays a role in this. A related concern is the rising rate of diabetes, including the pernicious childhood-onset form of the disease.

What about all of those chemicals, including caffeine (sometimes in large amounts), abounding in carbonated brews? Does little Johnny really read better with caffeine swimming in his brain? Try asking that question of a seventh-grade English teacher who is attempting to teach a child who has just guzzled a caffeine-laced soft drink how to identify a metaphor!

It is the height of hypocrisy to implement state-mandated health curricula at local schools and yet have soda machines right outside the health classroom. Why does this practice continue, in spite of the fact that the school board and individual schools have received requests from parents to abolish it? It’s simple: revenue. Schools get money from the sale of sodas, and they don’t want to surrender that perk. But is the extra money really worth the price of contributing to children’s bad health habits?

As a mother of a child who is now 16, I’ve been through the battle all parents have to go through when their children move from grammar to middle school in Chico. “Please, can I have money for the soda machines?” is the plaintive request in the opening weeks of school. As a teacher, I’ve experienced the reality in the classroom when kids come back from lunch after downing several Cokes.

Health advocates around the country have applauded the action taken by the L.A. Unified, which serves 748,000 students. I find it unfathomable that schools across the nation would not follow this trend. How about it, Chico Unified? Are children’s health and well being really our goal? Or is "revenue"?