Beverage Companies Make Sweet Deals With Schools
However, McBride says his trade group helped pay for the Michigan State research, and one of the scientists doing the Georgetown study has a faculty position funded by the sugar association.
Meanwhile, Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, the CDC's chief scientist for the division of adolescent and school health, worries about what he says is a doubling in the proportion of overweight youth in the last 20 years. He also says adolescents get about 11% of their calories from soft drinks and that lucrative school vending machine deals are a factor.
"We think it's wrong. The National Association of State Boards of Education ... clearly states that it's wrong. All the leading nutrition organization organizations believe that it's wrong. Many, many parents when they're sensitized to the issue think it's wrong," says Wechsler.
"It's not good nutrition for kids," continues Wechsler who points out that some studies have linked sugar to tooth decay.
In fact, some cities like Philadelphia, Sacramento, Calif., and Madison, Wisc., are now rejecting these "pouring rights" deals with bottlers. One industry source says that soft drink companies aren't all that thrilled with the school marketing deals, but they do them anyway in an effort to get a bigger share of the competitive beverage market.
In some communities, the school vending machines contain bottled water and juice in addition to soft drinks. "The decisions about soft drinks or beverages in schools are best left to local educators," says McBride.
There are, though, some interesting local experiments going on to encourage healthy food choices. One project undertaken by scientists at the University of Minnesota makes higher-nutrition options such as baby carrots and pretzels more attractive to kids by cutting the prices in half. According to Wechsler, sales have skyrocketed.