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Soda Ban May Burst Bubble; Lausd Students 
Could Be Un-PEPSI Generation

By Helen Gao\ Staff Writer

August 28

Irking Coca-Cola with what could become a national trend, Los Angeles school board members plan to vote this week on whether to ban sales of soft drinks throughout the nation's second largest school district.

Backed by board members Genethia Hudley Hayes and Julie Korenstein, Marlene Canter has led the groundbreaking and controversial campaign to create an un-Pepsi generation.

Instead of soda, kids would be offered water, milk and drinks that have at least 50 percent juice and no added sweeteners.

"(Soft drinks) have no nutritional value. They are full of sugar and caffeine," said Canter, who represents the Westside. "There is an obesity epidemic going on. I just felt that for the well-being of the whole child ... this is a no-brainer."

A ban on soda in schools in the nation's second largest district will likely spark similar movements nationwide, which is why Coca- Cola has threatened to end its sponsorship of the LAUSD's Academic Decathlon events and why many schools whose extra-curricular activities are funded by revenue from soda sales on campus are worried.

During the lunch rush at North Hollywood High School last week, sentiment among students clearly ran against banning sodas.

Students jammed the school's quadrangle, many clutching a soda to wash down chips, cookies, pizza and occasionally salads.

"You know adults get their coffee in the morning. Kids have soda. That's their kick," said ninth-grader Mia Sharrigan, who was sipping a Pepsi.

Under Cantor's proposal to be voted on by the board Tuesday, the soft drink ban would take effect in January 2004, the year the state will start implementing SB 19, which prohibits the sale of sodas at middle schools during certain hours and establishes higher nutrition standards for students.

As part of her proposal, Canter is also asking the district to boost nutrition education and create a working group to improve physical education.

Already district-operated school cafeterias, which sell $4.5 million worth of sodas each year, have agreed to take soft drinks off their menus starting in September. The move has prompted Coca- Cola to threaten to pull its annual $20,000 sponsorship of the district's Academic Decathlon scholastic competition.

If the LAUSD, which has more than 736,000 students, adopts a soft drinks ban, children's health advocates say it will set the stage for other school districts to follow the lead.

"If this passes here, we will see a ripple effect," said Jacqueline Domac, a health teacher at Venice High School, where administrators have been working for the past three years to phase out junk food. "Everyone is looking. If we can do it here, anyone can."

In California, Berkeley and the Oakland unified school districts have already banned the sale of soft drinks on their campuses, but no school district the size of the LAUSD is known to be addressing the issue, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

While health advocates applaud Canter's proposal, school administrators expressed mixed feelings. Middle and high schools have long relied on soda vending machine contracts to fund a host of student body activities, sports programs, equipment, uniforms, and even marquees.

"The problem at the high school level is without the sale of soft drinks, we cannot support our athletic programs," said Cleveland High School Principal Allan Jay Weiner, whose school generates $30,000 to $35,000 per year in revenues from selling Coca-Cola products. The money helps the school fund 28 different sports.

"What happens is if the ban goes through and we can't make up the sales, we will have to start canceling different teams," Weiner said.

And if after-school athletics are canceled, wouldn't students be worse off physically, asked another Valley high school administrator who wanted to remain anonymous.

"If we kill high school athletics because we can't support them financially, you are going to have a bigger problem," she said. "Many of these kids are not required to take a PE class, but they become part of an athletic team."

Jerry Horowitz, principal at Byrd Middle School, supports Canter's proposal but believes that the ban should be extended to cover all school facilities, including teachers' lounges and the district headquarters. The proposal only targets sales of soft drinks to students.

"I really think all soft drinks that are non-nutritious should not be available at any school sites," Horowitz said. "If we are fostering healthy diets, how can we have the superintendent drink a Coke in an office and say it's bad for kids at Byrd?"

At North Hollywood High School, where students consume some 2,160 bottles of water and sodas on a hot day, some reacted to Canter's proposal as another example of adults trying to run their lives.

"Half of the people here are 18. Shouldn't they be able to decide what they want to drink?" ninth-grader Jenia Tsipenyuk protested.

And besides, if the school doesn't sell soft drinks, students say they will bring them from home or worse, break rules to go off campus to buy them.

"It defeats the whole purpose," said freshman Michelle Gonzalez.

Others students, such as senior Fatima Ramirez, are for the ban.

"I think it's good to be healthy and not drink too much soda," she said.

Opponents of Canter's proposal doubt that eliminating soft drinks on school campuses will make a significant dent in childhood and adolescent obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in the nation.

A 1998 study by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that 40 percent of 900 LAUSD students surveyed are obese. Research has also shown that obesity disproportionately impacts African- American and Latino students, who are more likely than others to be uninsured.

School board member Mike Lansing said to address the obesity epidemic, the district must involve school administrators and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive fitness plan, instead of rushing ahead with a "Band-Aid" measure to ban soft drinks.

"It's trying to fight a wildfire with a water gun. It makes great headlines, but I don't think it's going to be the answer."

And if the school district eliminates sodas, shouldn't it ban other junk food? he asked. "Where do you stop after sodas? When do you say 'no' to chips and candy bars?"

Lansing would like to see a plan that includes an analysis of food patterns at home, nutrition education for parents and a serious look at improving the district's physical education program.

Canter has provided few details on the education component of her proposal, but has said it will cover both students and parents.

A report released this month by the Los Angeles County Task Force on Children and Youth Physical Fitness found PE programs at local public schools woefully inadequate. The report documented outdated facilities, large exercise classes and a lack of emphasis on fitness in general.

Currently, public elementary schools do not offer any structured physical education classes. In high school, students are only required to take PE for two years.

Sean McBride, spokesman for the National Soft Drinks Association, argues the key to fitness is a balanced diet and exercise, not banning sodas.

"The answer from our perspective is to educate people to eat a variety of foods in moderation and to exercise at least 30 minutes a day," he said. "Unfortunately, people are looking for a silver bullet and quick answers."

Domac of Venice High School defends Canter's proposal, saying it's a major first step toward improving student health.

"Eighty percent of the students who become obese during high school stay that way the rest of their lives. These are formative years," she said. "We have to pay attention to their eating habits now."

Randall Delling, principal of North Hollywood High School, expects his campus will eventually adjust to juice machines, if the soft drink ban goes through.

"I think initially there would be a drop (in sales). As time goes on, people would adapt and adjust to it, and it would rise again," he said.

Domac, who is interviewing alternative beverage vendors, said one has offered a higher profit margin than what Coca-Cola did on its juice products. By writing confidentiality clauses into contracts, Domac said Coca-Cola has prevented schools from comparing the terms of their agreements.

Some school officials have expressed concern that juice and other healthy beverages may not sell as well as sodas, resulting in less money for extra-curricular activities.

But regardless of whether schools lose money or not over the potential change, Domac is supportive of a soft drink ban.

"Economics should never take precedence over the health of students," she said. "It's never the responsibility of our students to subsidize public education." -ST_KEY- CALIFORNIA - ISSUE - HEALTH - DIET - SCHOOL - OBESITY - STUDENT - SOFT DRINK - SODA - SALE - PRODUCT - BAN - CAMPAIGN - MARLENE CANTER - POLITICS - LOS ANGELES - LAUSD - VALLEY - REACTION - COCA-COLA - THREAT - END - SPONSORSHIP - ACADEMIC DECATHLON - FORECAST

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Last modified: June 28, 2015