Junk Food Myths

Dire predictions frequently warn of disastrous consequences if schools banish unhealthy drinks and snacks -- but these warnings seem to be urban myths, in the same vein as razor blades in Halloween apples. These arguments are heard all across the country from interests that oppose the removal of junk food from schools. In fact, the arguments often come from the corporations that manufacture soda and snack foods.

Click here to read a typical press release from the National Soft Drink Association.

Myth #1: If we ban soda, we will lose lots of money.

Schools which believe they rely on income from sales of unhealthy foods are understandably reluctant to risk eliminating junk food. Often, a school official will mention a laundry list of school programs funded by soda profits, claiming that eliminating soda would eliminate the programs. This argument completely overlooks the fact that thirsty students who cannot buy soda will buy healthier beverages - bottled water, 100% fruit juice, or milk - if they are available.

Click here to read about how one California middle school increased sales revenue after banning soda.
Click here to read about other schools which have banned soda with no loss of income.

Myth #2: Soda is not the problem; kids need more exercise.

This is a favorite line of the National Soft Drink Association, a Washington-based trade group representing soda companies. Ironically, although kids do need more exercise, soda may put them at higher risk for activity-related injuries. Soda consumption has been clearly linked to more broken bones, obesity, and osteoporosis. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that physically active teenage girls who were soda-drinkers were three times more likely to suffer broken bones than their teammates who did not drink carbonated beverages. For cola-drinkers, the risk was five times greater. More exercise alone will not help these girls; in fact, for this group, increasing exercise without reducing soda consumption could result in more broken bones. Soda manufacturers like to say that banning soda is not the answer to the crisis in children's health. Yet it is a critically important part of the answer, along with better overall nutrition and more exercise.

Click here for more on this subject.

Myth #3: The soft drink companies help our school by donating scoreboards, uniforms, and other equipment.

'The school system is where you build brand loyalty.' -- John Alm, president and chief operating officer, Coca-Cola Enterprises, quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, April 6, 2003

The soft drink companies help themselves by building brand loyalty among kids in the hope that it will last a lifetime. Adequate funding of the schools is the responsibility of the government; it is one of the reasons we pay taxes. Here's what a brave school board member in Colorado said:

"Yes, schools need money, but turning to commercial sales for income is a cop-out. It sends the message to our voters and legislators that we can let them off the hook--that advertising and sales of consumer products can fill the gap when it comes to supporting education."
Click here to read the full article.

An Oklahoma legislator has proposed a $2 tax on the sale of soft drink syrup in Oklahoma, estimated to produce upwards of $60 million per year. The revenue would go to the state's General Revenue Fund, where it would be appropriated by the Legislature for various state departments, including education. Arkansas already has such a tax, and it is being considered in several other states. The bill has met with widespread approval from nearly everyone, except the soft drink companies.

Click here to read more on this story.

Myth #4: Kids won't buy healthy foods from vending machines.

Not true. Despite claims that students would never give up their favorite junk foods, research shows that the deciding factor for students, given a choice between healthy or unhealthy drinks and snacks, was price.

"A study last year showed there are ways to successfully prod school kids toward healthy choices -- through their wallets. The American Journal of Public Health published a study showing that in a high school vending machine stocked with both healthy and unhealthy choices, students will choose healthy items if the are priced slightly cheaper than the unhealthy choices. Sales volume rose enough that the machine generated the same amount of money as the machine stocked with only unhealthy choices. "North High School in Minneapolis is putting that to the test. "In September the school got rid of all but one of its eight pop machines -- replacing them with 10 water machines and two juice machines. In the remaining pop machine, a can of pop costs $1.25 and water is 75 cents. Last fall, water outsold pop compared to the same period the previous year, said Bryan Bass, intern assistant principal."
Click here to read the complete article.

Myth #5: Banning soda sales takes away kids' right to free choice.

This argument completely disregards the fact that students are free to choose among healthier alternatives, such as juice, water, milk, or seltzer. They are also free to bring their favorite soft drink from home.

Interestingly, the same folks who talk about the kids' "right to choose" see no problem with school districts signing exclusive "pouring rights" contracts. These agreements give one company (usually Coke or Pepsi) the exclusive right to sell their products on school property, with all competitors' products banned. As soon as the contract is signed with Pepsi, for example, talk about a student's "right to choose" Coke or 7-Up ceases. Districts desperate for money are willing to sign away this supposed "right to choose", and the winning soft drink company actively participates in limiting the kids' "choice" to one manufacturer's products. A frequent consequence of "pouring rights" contracts is that the price of soda at schools with exclusive contracts increases, as is often the case with any monopoly.

Click here to read about how the price of soda increased at a school with a "pouring rignts" contract with Pepsi.
Click here to read about what happened to a 15-year-old cheerleader (at a school with a Pepsi contract) who tried to raise money for her squad by selling bottled water with the school logo on it.
Click here to read more about pouring rights contracts.

Click here for an archive of news stories about school nutrition.
Click here to return to the PASA page on student nutrition.

Page last updated Monday November 02, 2009