Bill seeking restriction of soda sales in school

By Greg Gelpi

A proposed piece of legislation could take the fizz out of buying and chugging soft drinks at school.

Georgia House Bill 1124, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hines, R-Kennesaw, would ban the sale and consumption of soft drinks on school grounds before and during school hours. The bill would not affect the sale of other items, such as ice cream or snacks from vending machines.

"It's not a health measure," Hines said. "It's a learning environment measure."

He said that drinking in classrooms is distracting to the learning process.

Hines, a retired teacher of 37 years, said he is open to changing the language of the bill, but said that something must be done to reduce distractions in the classroom. He added that at one point gum was banned, but "nowadays we allow just about everything."

The measure would ban the sale of everything from a drink machine, including water, sports drinks, and fruit juices, Hines said, before and during school hours.

Two Lovejoy High School students said they don't feel it's necessary for the government to dictate their soft drink habits.

"We can go to McDonald's and order," Brandon DeLoach, senior class president, said. "Why can't we go to school and order a soft drink?"

Kaneisha White, student council president, agreed with her classmate.

"We're responsible young adults," White said. "We should be able to buy soft drinks."

Teachers are capable of adopting their own rules for their classrooms, she said.

Lovejoy High doesn't sell carbonated drinks during school hours, Principal Mike Duncan said, adding that the school would bring in a considerable amount of money if it could.

From July 1 to Jan. 21, Lovejoy brought $43,759.75 into the school's "Coke" account. Most of the income for the account came from sales from vending machines.

Duncan said the money funds an honors night, faculty and student awards and ACT testing for sophomores. Lovejoy High is the only school in Clayton County that provides ACT Plan Testing for all of its sophomores, he said.

"What do I not get with the money is the question," Duncan said. "If I could sell the carbonated stuff during the school day,?we could really move on a lot of initiatives."

He said that the school would move forward faster on programs, such as a career center, with more revenue.

Most Clayton County schools already prevent the sale of soft drinks during school hours, Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton said, adding that special locks on the vending machines enforce the hours of operation.

"I think all of the schools are using these," Horton said of the locks. "As far as we know, all of our schools are in compliance (with the proposed legislation)."

Schools are allowed to sell ice cream because it has "nutritional value," a term Horton said is broadly defined. Ice cream has milk, so it is considered to have nutritional value.

Clayton County School Nutrition Coordinator Jane Lofton said that county policy prohibits the sale of soft drinks and a number of other items, including candy, during school hours.

"It's a non-nutritious item," Lofton said of soft drinks. "That has been a policy in place for years and years."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees school nutrition programs, sets the guidelines and requirements for schools, she said.

"We are required to offer milk everyday, and you really don't want the competition with it," Lofton said.

Increased consumption of soft drinks has lead to a decrease in milk consumption, Sarah Cannon, a registered and licensed dietician at Southern Regional Medical Center, said. Less milk drinking means higher chances of osteoporosis and kidney infections.

Cannon said it is recommended that a person take in no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar a day in a plan that includes 2,000 calories. A 12-ounce soft drink has about nine teaspoons of sugar, Cannon said. About 10 to 25 grams of carbohydrates are in a typical half-cup serving of ice cream.

"It is estimated that between 16 and 20 percent of the American diet can come from sugar alone," she said, adding that about half of that comes from soft drinks. "I do believe that these empty calories do contribute to the onset of obesity."

Cannon said about one or two soft drinks a day is "reasonable in this world," but said for a healthier diet one or two a week is recommended.

The system's schools brought in $132,128.77 into its "Coke" accounts from July 1 to Jan. 21, including $43,759.75 from Lovejoy High School alone. The next highest high school, Mundy's Mill High collected $26,466.63 in the same period.

This revenue includes all vending machines, not just soft drinks school system internal auditor Fran Youngblood said. Sports drinks, fruit juices, water and snacks are also sold in vending machines.

Seven high schools brought in $66,441.26 into their Coke accounts, while 10 middle schools took in $20,261.34 and 32 elementary schools took in $45,426.17

The schools also have a separate account for ice cream sales. Leading the way, M.D. Roberts and Riverdale middle schools each had more than $19,000 in ice cream sales, and Mundy's Mill High School had $11,192.69. Mount Zion Elementary had the most ice cream sales of elementary schools, taking in $7,285.84.

About 15 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 11 and about 15 percent of U.S. children ages 12 to 19 are considered overweight, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The legislation is in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. It must pass the committee before going to the full House.