Bans on Sugary Drinks in Schools Have Little Impact on Consumption

Daniel R. Taber, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his colleagues found that policies banning the sale of sugary beverages in schools have had only limited success at reducing middle school students’ consumption of these products. (Image: Christie’s Photographic Studios)

State bans on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools may reduce access to such drinks during school hours, but they have little effect on overall consumption of such products, according to a study published online today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Moreover, banning only the sale of soda in schools has little impact on student access to sugary drinks there.

Increasing consumption of sodas, sports drinks, and sugar-sweetened juice drinks among adolescents has raised concern among public health authorities about the potential for this trend to contribute to obesity, diabetes, and metabolic problems among youth. In fact, soda consumption now accounts for more calories consumed by 14- to 18-year-olds than any other food or beverage category.

Hoping to combat this trend, many states have enacted bans on the sale of sodas or sugar-sweetened beverages in schools. To assess the effects of such policies, scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) analyzed data from a nationally representative longitudinal cohort study and found evidence that these policies may be having only limited success. Compared with states with no ban, in states that banned in-school sale of all sugar-sweetened beverages, 15 fewer students for every 100 reported they had access to such products at school. Moreover, state policies on the sale of such beverages in schools had no impact on overall consumption among middle school students.

Daniel R. Taber, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral research associate at UIC and lead author of the study, discussed the results with news@JAMA.

news@JAMA: What do you think is driving the dramatic increase in calorie consumption from sugary beverages among youth?

Dr Taber: There are many different factors driving this trend. Availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools is 1 factor. But these drinks are available in all facets of adolescents’ lives—in their neighborhoods, homes, and in restaurants.

news@JAMA: How successful have state policies banning the sale of sugary drinks in schools been?

Dr Taber: When states banned all sugar-sweetened beverages, they were successful in reducing access to these drinks in schools. The fact that they are not reducing overall consumption reflects the larger environment.

news@JAMA: How might state policies regarding the sale of sugary beverages in schools be made more effective?

Dr Taber: The laws need to be comprehensive. They must target all sugar-sweetened beverages, including sports drinks and sugar-sweetened juices, not just sodas.

news@JAMA: What other steps should be taken?

Dr Taber: Many students have the misperception that sports drinks are healthy alternatives to sodas. They need to be educated about what is healthy. Kids need to understand that all types of sugar-sweetened beverages are not healthy, and that they need to focus on drinking water, low-fat milk, and limited servings of juice.

news@JAMA: What is the main take-home message from your study?

Dr Taber: Improving the school environment can help, but schools can’t do it on their own. We really need help in all sectors to reduce sweetened beverage consumption. Policy makers need to focus on other areas, such as advertising of sugar-sweetened beverages, their sale in restaurants, and taxes on these products.

Categories: Diabetes Mellitus, Diet, Health Policy, Nutrition/ Malnutrition, Obesity