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Dr. Ayala

Dr. Ayala
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
V.P. Product Development
Herbal Water
I’m a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. I recently co-founded Herbal Water Inc. (www.herbalwater.com) with my husband, Albert. I am a serious home cook, and love to entertain. My expertise is vegetarian food (I have been a vegetarian all my life). I strongly believe that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand. My main interests are science, nutrition and art, and I am overall a very curious person that tries to learn something new every day. Dr. Ayala (Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D.)


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NOVEMBER 16, 2011 7:44AM

Banning soda in school isn’t enough

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vending machine

It took the whole village a few decades to create the obesity epidemic.  We slowly allowed the development of a food environment in which junk, fast and highly processed foods became available everywhere and anytime. Marketing and advertising of these food products permeated every real and virtual space making every moment and every deed a consumption occasion.

When we noticed that obesity rates among kids tripled and looked at what kids consumed, it was shocking to see that sugar sweetened beverages contribute about 300 (empty) calories a day to a teen’s diet, making them the single largest source of added sugar.  Indeed, sugary drinks have become a way of life, and their makers make sure fueling stations are densely spread so a kid would never have to go without.

And since so much time is spent at school, where kids are a captive and impressionable audience, school became another sugary drink fueling station.  Vended sugary drinks offered schools a source for much needed funds, and so developed the unholy union between the companies that want to imprint their brand’s image in kids’ minds and the institution that’s trusted to teach kids critical thinking and prepare them for a healthy and productive life.

Does changing the vending machine’s content change kids’ habits?

When the Institute of Medicine called for the removal of all sweetened beverages from schools and the American Academy of Pediatrics advised their elimination, some school districts and states did nothing, some opted to replace soda with lower-sugar options, such as sports drinks and vitamin water, and other cities and states went further and placed all-out bans on sweetened drinks.

A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine examines the effect of different policies using data gathered from almost 7000 middle school students from 40 states; 22 of these school districts had no policy governing sales of sugary drinks in middle schools, 11 banned sales of soda only allowing all other sugary drinks, and 7 banned all sugary drinks, including sports drinks and fruit drinks (but not 100% fruit juice).

So how would you expect the kids to respond to the different vending policies?

I think no one would be surprised to hear that in schools that banned only soda, kids bought the other vended sugary beverages instead.  Banning soda did nothing to reduce sugary drink consumption in schools with a partial policy. 

But here’s an even more discouraging result: In schools that banned all sugary drinks kids indeed consumed fewer sugary drinks at school, but their consumption did not decrease overall; kids were able to find sugary drinks out of school, and filled the sugar gap before and after school.

In other words, school vending policies only changed the school environment, and didn’t seem to be enough to change kids’ access and behavior overall.

So are school policies useless?

It will take a village

The study authors, led by Daniel Taber, suggest it would take a comprehensive alteration of kids’ environment to change their sugary drink habits

“Experts have recommended broader policies, such as SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) taxes or regulations of food marketing aimed at children. Future research should explore the effect that school-based policies have on youth diet and weight gain when implemented in conjunction with policies in other sectors.”

It would be naive to expect that changes at school can result in instant improvement when other sectors aren’t cooperating.

But there’s enormous value in creating a healthy school environment.

Giving a yellow card to kids shouting obscenities on the athletic field doesn’t guarantee the same words won’t be used when refs are out of earshot, but it still does teach kids sportsmanship – this is as much as we should expect from our schools.  Teaching kids good nutrition doesn’t guarantee they’ll eat well given the many unhealthy options all around them, but demonstrating through a school policy that chips and a sports drink aren’t food sends an educational message.   Schools should be parents’ partners in teaching healthy eating habits.  But schools can’t to do it all on their own.

At this point it will take a village to change our habits.

Dr. Ayala

Full disclosure: I’m vice president of product development for Herbal Water, where we make organic herb-infused waters that have zero calories and no sugar or artificial ingredients. I’m also a pediatrician and have been promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyle for many years.

Read more from Dr. Ayala at  http://herbalwater.typepad.com

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Banning sugar sodas in school and taxing them to discourage consumption would seem to be common sense ideas that everyone could agree on. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Here in Tennessee, many people are aghast at the thought that the government would try to tell them what to eat. Idiots. I shudder every time I go to Walmart and see obese families with multiple cases of Coca-cola in their carts...
As one who has spent much of my communications career in education, I applaud your shedding light on this problem. You are right to point to the matter of what kids can and cannot do outside of school being relevant to what they may be permitted to do while inside the school environment.
Dr. Ayala,
I'm always happy to see you've posted something new. Your common sense combined with such an informed and reasonable approach to things is a breath of fresh air.

Sodas have taken a back seat to energy drinks such as Monster and Red Bull with many teens. Your point is one that needs to made again and again, if we hope to offer our kids the straight scoop when it comes to their health and the ramifications of abusing it early in life.

Rated and appreciated.
There are not good answers but if we do have universal healthcare someone needs to pay for the obese diabetic's healthcare. I do believe taxing these foods is the best answer at this point. And perhaps some people will stop consuming sugar water. Herbal water sounds like a nice alternative but I prefer a nice cold glass of water. Dr. Evan Levine
Wonderful post Doctor! Lifestyle changes are the hardest to make. Kids are taught their eating habits.
People think I am strange when I turn down an energy drink, sports drink. Im not running a marathon, my body doesn't need all that to function. Soda is not neccessary to support life. Water is fine with me. Junk food is too available. And now we see overwieght children chugging huge bottles of sports drinks while they play video games. I call it bad judgement, lack of education on the parents part. The tax payers will have to bear the burden of health care for these diabetics in the making.
I have been interested in the topic of healthy alternatives to sodas. One idea -- Mexican Kool-Aid! In a local store, I can find packets of flavors such as mango, hibiscus, etc. I make a quart of this, and sweeten it with raw agave syrup. This is similar to honey, but it is claimed that it takes longer to digest. It is even approved for use by diabetics. I love frozen concentrated fruit juice. But they are loaded with refined sugars. I wish more products were available unsweetened, or that use agave.
Get out of other people's lives. We will decide how to eat and what to eat and we will control our kids as well. I know that using a "crisis" to gain control for the good of others comes naturally to the fascist lights on the left. But remember, some of us will not go along. Get a life and stay out of ours and, while you're at it, get a grip on your arrogance.
Sorry Frank, everyone cannot agree. If you don't want your kids to drink this stuff, fine. But I want YOU, and the good doctor here, to stay out of my business. I really, really do. BTW, a can of coke has, count em, 100 calories. Why not tax, chocolate, cake, cookies, cereals, sugar in all of its forms, drinks at Starbucks, TVs (sitting doesn't burn as many calories as walking), cars, sofas (see parenthetical here), cheese, meat, and so on and so on?

Here's how it works in America: we are free to be fat and to eat "incorrectly" and the good doctor is free to hector all she wants. She is not, however, free to force her "religion" on me via taxes. Wanna be healthy? Become a Mormon or a Seventh Day Adventist. Hey, let's mandate that!

Leave us alone!

"It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." (C.S. Lewis)
Everybody has the right to choose his foods and drink and it would be innapropriate to bann any of them. Why not just let everybody choose by themselves cause you can't judge people. Speaking to a friend of mine about it, he sayd that choosing your products by it's bennefits is better that believing in commercials.