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LA students face soft drink bar

Los Angeles, Aug. 28 (Reuters): Los Angeles county school officials voted yesterday to ban the sale of soft drinks to its 735,0000 students amid worries about increasingly overweight children being fed junk food in their schools.

In voting unanimously to end the sale of soda in vending machines and cafeterias by January of 2004, the Los Angeles School Board rejected arguments that its 677 campuses need the money they make from the drinks, saying that students’ health should take precedence over fund raising.

But they also voted for a compromise measure that would allow the superintendent of schools to address the issue of lost revenue in a report to be filed six months from now.

“I find it appalling that we are discussing economics at the risk of our children’s health,” said board member Marlene Canter, who sponsored the measure.

She argued that schools should not rely on students to subsidise their own education.

The meeting was held in the auditorium of the Downtown Magnet High School, where four vending machines offered jumbo-sized bottles of Coke, Sprite and Dr Pepper for $1 each.

The decision in Los Angeles, home to the nation’s second-largest school system behind New York, was being closely watched by educators and activists across the country amid studies that show the percentage of American adolescents who are overweight has nearly tripled in the past 20 years. The trend has been blamed on junk food and lack of exercise.

School officials elsewhere have considered similar bans on soda pop sales but so far only a few — including the Oakland Unified School District in northern California — have put them in place. The state of Texas bans the sale of all junk food on its school campuses during lunch time.

The new policy in Los Angeles will, over three years, phase out soft drinks in vending machines and cafeterias, where they will be replaced by water, milk and fruit and sports drinks.

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