Keep the soda ban

Let’s hope the District 51 school board exercises better judgment about what constitutes healthy beverages than the state board of education did Wednesday.

Meeting in Grand Junction, the state board voted 4-3 to end a seven-year ban on diet sodas in Colorado high schools, effectively putting the onus on individual school districts to decide whether to allow such drinks.

In passing the buck, however, the state board sent a confusing message about its role as an advocate of best practices — curricular or otherwise.

The vote stemmed from a conflict between state and federal policy. The board adopted the Colorado Healthy Beverage Policy in 2009. Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has adopted its own standards that allow for diet sodas in high schools and the state board’s staff recommended aligning state rules with the federal policies to reduce regulatory burden.

Whether the rules align or not, at least one set of guidelines has to be observed. How does lowering the standard reduce regulatory burden? Worse, the board majority relinquished the opportunity to shake off federal involvement — a point made by board member Angelika Schroeder of Boulder.

“It goes totally in the face of conversations we keep having about that we don’t want the feds telling us what to do — we want to do what’s best for Colorado kids.”

As The Sentinel’s Erin McIntyre reported, several health-oriented groups campaigned against the rule change, including the American Heart Association, Colorado Health Foundation, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, LiveWell Colorado and the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

“Allowing diet sodas in schools provides unhealthy branding opportunities to an industry that has contributed mightily to the nation’s obesity epidemic,” Wyatt Hornsby, campaign director for Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, said in submitted comments to the board. “Our schools are no place for soda.”

The 4-3 vote was strictly along party lines. Republicans supported the rule change. Democrats opposed it. Pam Mazanec, a Republican from Larkspur, said she wanted to see less regulation and more local control of the diet-soda issue.

Despite the current state policy, obesity rates “are still through the roof,” board member Joyce Rankin said during the hearing. By that logic, should we serve more pizza and chicken nuggets, too? This is policy-making by towel throwing.

Because Wednesday’s vote was the first after a public hearing, it had to be unanimous to pass. Since it wasn’t, the board will vote on the proposal again in September, but the issue will need only a simple majority to pass.

But school districts can make their own rules on sodas on campus that can be more restrictive than state or federal guidelines.

It would be great if the state board rethought its position, but since that’s unlikely, we urge District 51 officials to keep the current standard in place. The district has taken great pains to serve healthier meals. It would be a shame to deviate from that direction because of an error in thinking at the state level.


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