Here’s some breaking news: High-school students like drinking soda. Normally this would sound the "duh" alarm, but schools in Maine elected in 2005 to abolish the fizzy drinks in a misguided effort to slim down overweight kids. But lawmakers didn’t base their ban on scientific evidence, and it turns out the theory that soda bans reduce obesity is groundless.
The University of Southern Maine just released a study tested how well those Maine soda bans actually worked to cut down on students’ soda intake. Researchers looked at four schools that eliminated all beverages with sugar (including sodas, juice, and sports drinks) as well as diet sodas. They also examined three schools where vending machines were left alone. The results?
The study found boys decreased sugary drink consumption by 15 percent, girls by 18 percent, and this decrease was similar across both groups.
The question of the day… Why did rates go down in the control group, too? Blum says it may have to do with the fact that at the time of the study state officials and lawmakers were heavily promoting messages aimed at reducing obesity. "And there was a slight reduction in the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages available in those controlled schools as well. They weren’t supposed to change but sometimes a vendor would come in and fill up the machines without really doing an inventory."
Bottom line: Soda bans have no impact on what kids choose to drink. The only thing that appears to have made a difference is a campaign encouraging — you guessed it — moderation. And perhaps Maine schools would have seen a real reduction in student obesity if they made sure phys ed was a part of the school day. Getting kids involved in sports and other forms of exercise fosters healthy habits that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives, unlike soda bans which simply regulate their drink choices for a few hours a day.
Maine Public Radio asked us for our take on the study:
"[It] shows that despite all of the activist groups that have been demonizing soda, and finally having the soda companies in some way or another responding to those groups, that the actual changes they were calling for have had no impact … If you give kids the tools they can use to get active, if you teach them sports, it’s something that they’re going to do directed on their own. There’s no finger-waving involved there. But when you take something away, it’s a finger wave, it’s a slap on the wrist and it eliminates the personal responsibility."
We always knew that one-off food and drink bans were shortsighted, and the scientific community backs us up. But the question remains: Will Maine schools reverse this silly ban now that it’s been exposed as a wrong-headed exercise?