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How The Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
When was the last time you consumed soda? Most likely, it wasn't that long ago. You may even drink several cans or bottles each day. In the U.S, carbonated soft drinks are a huge business. Every year, they generate more than $50 billion in annual sales.
Two companies - Coca-Cola and PepsiCo -- dominate the soda market. They are in a constant battle for the market share of the product - a conflict known as the "Cola War." Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually for advertising. Not surprisingly, the companies are always looking for new markets. And, increasingly, they are directing their attention to adolescents and children.
For decades, schools have allowed soda to be sold in on-site vending machines. So, generating income for schools from the sale of soda is not a new policy. However, in the early 1990s, pouring-rights contracts emerged. These put a different spin on the sale of soda in schools. And, over the years, they have increasingly gained in popularity.
In return for the exclusive sale of one-company's product, pouring-rights contracts give school districts large lump-sum payments and extra payments and/or gifts over a period of five or 10 years. The contracts provide additional incentives for consumption levels that surpass quotas. So, they tend to encourage the consumption of higher amounts of soda, even by the youngest students. In one of the most extravagant contracts, a 53-school district in Colorado, gave up its Pepsi vending machines and signed an $8 million, 10 year agreement with Coca-Cola that included cash bonuses when sale targets were exceeded and a new car for a senior with high grades and perfect attendance. But, even the smaller contracts tend to be generous. The goal is to create brand loyalty among young people - a loyalty that could continue throughout their lives. Without a doubt, administrators in cash-strapped school districts have a litany of reasons to be enticed. But, adherence to the contracts may be taken to extremes. For example, a Georgia student was suspended when he wore a shirt with a Pepsi logo to a student government-sponsored "Coke Day" rally.
So what is contained in a typical soda that may be found in a school vending machine? A 20-ounce screw-top plastic bottle of soda has 275 calories. While there are other ingredients such as flavorings and caffeine, the soda is primarily sugar and carbonated water. High in calories and zero in nutritional value, it is the quintessential "junk food." The Center for Science in the Public Interest refers to soft drinks as "liquid candy." Since the bottles have screw-tops, the liquid may be sipped throughout the day, thereby bathing the teeth with sugar and upsetting dentists. While it is unclear how many sodas a typical student might drink in one day, one is not a bad guess. Just one a day means 1925 empty calories per week. Heavy users drink more than one soda per day. Children who begin drinking soda when they are still young tend to increase the amount they consume through adolescence into young adulthood. Many children drink more soda than juice or milk. While juice and whole milk contain about the same amount of calories as soda, they contain useful vitamins and minerals. Juice and milk are far better nutritional options.
Although the relationship cannot be proven conclusively, soda consumption correlates with obesity. Children who drink sodas take in more calories, are fatter and have worse diets than those who don't. If you need to lose weight, start by replacing sodas with water, fat free or 1% milk, or 100% juice (but not too much).
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