Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The last person elected . . .

President of the United States, WJ Clinton, has acted presidential by brokering an agreement with the sugar water industry to stop selling most of their poisonous products in schools. This is an issue I have railed about here frequently, and you're probably wondering why it took me a few days to get around to commenting.

Well, there are only 37 hours in a day, and I had to find the time to make sure this was on the up-and-up. I don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, on the other hand the companies obviously must have seen this outcome as preferable to waiting around for 80% of the states to pass bans. So, there are a couple of flaws which are worth pointing out.

The most egregious is that the agreement allows so-called "sports drinks" to be sold in high schools. These are concoctions like Gatorade© (invented by a University of Florida athletic trainer, and the University gets royalities on every bottle) which are just sugar water without the bubbles, plus a bit of pottasium. If you are engaged in high intensity exercise for a long time, then you can safely consume sugar because it is burned off without a glycemic spike. Unless you are running a marathon, however, it is unlikely you will need to worry about electrolyte replacement.

Most people who consume these drinks aren't doing anything of the sort. Even if you are doing hard work, be it riding your mountain bike on a Sunday afternoon, clearing brush on your Texas "ranch," catching a comparatively big fish* or watching war on TV, you are probably better off just drinking water. I am quite sure that 99% of the high school kids who buy these drinks out of vending machines at school aren't taking them to track practice, where liquids are provided anyway. They are just a backdoor way of getting sugar water past the ban, and they are marketed so as to make you believe they are good for you. Sadly, no.

Another problem is that the agreement allows anything that can be legitimately labeled as "100% juice." Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily okay. The beverage industry has developed some strains of grapes with incredibly high sugar content, so that "grape juice" becomes a way of getting a whole lot of sugar into an all-juice product. Some juice blend drinks are just empty calories, really no different nutritionally from soda. You need to read the label. Nutritionally worthwhile juices contain vitamins, minerals and even dietary fiber, and have considerably less sugar than soda. Not everything called juice qualifies. Specific nutritional standards, rather than just the "100% juice" concept, are needed.

So, while this agreement is a win, not least because it establishes the legitimacy of the issue, it shouldn't stop state laws from going forward. And we still need to do something about solid food, including not only vending machines but the french fries and pizza provided in the cafeteria. Maybe then we'll have a chance to start beating back the obesity epidemic.


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