Just say no to diet sodas in Colorado high schools

By Barbara Springer

The Colorado State Board of Education is meeting in Grand Junction on Wednesday on the Colorado Mesa University campus and will consider a policy with far-reaching impacts on the health and wellness of our state’s 900,000 public school students.

The board will vote on whether or not to align the state’s Healthy Beverage Policy with federal standards — the same standards, by the way, that have allowed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in schools nationwide. If the board aligns the state Healthy Beverage Policy with federal rules, that’ll mean Colorado is lowering its standards — standards that have been higher than federal rules and that our schools are already following.

How exactly would aligning with federal rules lower the bar? For starters, it would mean diet soda can be sold to high school students. This is a problem for three reasons.

1) Diet soda is acidic, and all that acid can erode students’ teeth, leading to dental disease.

2) Allowing diet soda in schools could deter students from making healthier choices, like water or white milk.

3) Allowing diet sodas in high schools provides an unnecessary marketing opportunity to an industry that has fueled the obesity, diabetes and tooth decay epidemics.

Most Coloradans would agree: Soda, whether diet or full-calorie, has no nutritional value, no place in our schools and no place in a healthy beverage policy.

That’s not all. Aligning with federal standards would mean middle school students get more juice — about 20 percent more per serving. Despite savvy marketing and the belief that it’s “healthy,” juice is usually just as sugary as soda, even if the sugar is “natural.” All that sugar contributes to tooth decay, the most common chronic disease of childhood, as well as obesity and diabetes.

Rather than increase how much juice middle schoolers get — which would only benefit the juice companies — we should instead do something to expand access to fruits and vegetables.

Colorado is about setting the bar high. It’s what we do. Earlier this year, our state Board of Human Services implemented new regulations for licensed childcare centers that sent a strong message about where we stand when it comes to the health and wellness of our kids. The regulations prohibit centers from serving children any sugar-sweetened beverage, including flavored milks, and capped 100 percent juice to twice per week. Parents can still send their child to day care with a sugar-sweetened beverage, but the centers themselves can no longer serve them.

Water and white milk are now the default for our youngest children. Why shouldn’t they also be the default for elementary, middle and high school students?

We Coloradans take pride in being the healthiest state in the nation, and that means we set the bar higher. Aligning our state’s Healthy Beverage Policy with federal standards will just lower the bar. There is no reason to roll-back our state’s good work.

Barbara Springer is executive director of the nonprofit Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, whose mission is to eradicate childhood tooth decay.


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