Chicago Public Schools Throw Coke Out
When the contract between Chicago Public Schools and Coca-Cola - a
contract which made Coke the exclusive soft drink provider for the
nation's third-largest school district - expires Nov. 15, it will
not be renewed, ending a five-year working relationship. Citing concerns
about student health, CPS announced in April that it would eliminate
soda sales in its schools in an effort to limit childhood obesity
among its students.
A handful of the nation's largest school districts are establishing
new health policies that forbid or restrict carbonated soft drinks
sales in America's public schools. As the trend grows, smaller districts
are beginning to follow suit.
School districts in northwestern Illinois vary widely in their methods,
but they're all making efforts to balance their reliance on revenue
from soft drink sales and the demand for soda against the growing
problem of obesity.
On Oct. 27, the Chicago school board announced it had authorized a
new contract with a distributorship in Northlake for juice, water
and Gatorade in its vending machines, despite the fact that the Coca-Cola
Bottling Company of Chicago offered juices, water and sports drinks
as part of its "Your Power to Choose" program.
"It wasn't trying to get rid of Coke the company," said Michael Vaughn,
deputy press secretary for CPS. "It was an effort to offer our students
healthier beverages than what we have now."
Vaughn said his office was not made aware of the "Your Power to Choose"
program, and that Coke was as welcome as any other company to submit
a new proposal when the district announced its new health-focused
"I don't know if they submitted a new proposal," Vaughn said.
Coke did, but it was not the proposal the district chose. And while
the reasons for the change could have been better prices, better service
or just a whim, Gary Ruskin of the non-profit political organization
Commercial Alert thinks there's more to it.
"Keeping Coke in their schools would be keeping the camel's nose under
the tent," said Ruskin, who, with Ralph Nader, co-founded Commercial
Alert, which holds as its mission the prevention of commercial culture's
exploitation of children. "Public health folks are concerned that
if the camel's nose stays under the tent, we'd see an eventual return
to aggressive junk food marketing.
"(Coke) is a company that is famous for foisting its high-sugar soda
pop on our nation's children despite its health effects. (It's) not
the kind of corporation to invite into schools."
With the number of overweight school children on the rise - from 5.7
percent of children between ages 6 and 18 in 1980 to 15.3 percent
in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- people are looking for reasons. Many point to carbonated soft drink
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a policy statement published
in January, stated that the regular consumption of carbonated soft
drinks are likely to cause weight problems, calcium deficiency and
dental problems in school-age children. The findings supported similar
studies previously published in The Lancet and the British Medical
In the most recent edition of "The Achiever," the U.S. Board of Education's
newsletter, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige cited "consumption
of soda," as one of the reasons growing numbers of American schoolchildren
are unhealthy. He announced a new initiative called "Schools for a
Healthier U.S. Challenge," focused on healthy eating and exercise.
In the report cited above, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated
that, beyond merely making soda available to kids, "contracts with
school districts for exclusive soft drink rights encourage consumption
directly and indirectly." The academy went on to recommend that school
boards establish a "clearly defined, district-wide policy that restricts
the sale of soft drinks."
As a result of such attention, school districts and state governments
across the nation are moving to change the drinking habits of schoolchildren.
The states of Maine and Texas have each banned soda and junk foods
from their schools statewide. And public school districts in New York
City, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Nashville have all made
Public and political support for removing soft drinks from schools
has grown rapidly, said Ruskin of Commercial Alert, which has addressed
the issue since it was founded in 1998. The new support, Ruskin said,
is mostly made up of "really angry parents."
"(Parents) feel like school board members have been incompetent in
supporting the health of Coke and Pepsi's bottom lines over the health
of their children," Ruskin said. "(Disapproval of) marketing in our
schools is uniting people from across the political spectrum," said
Ruskin. "Not only have we seen massive support, we're winning victories
statewide and locally."
As examples, Ruskin cited Seattle's public school district, where
progressive activists led the charge that recently voted four new
members to its school board based on their opposition to the marketing
of junk food. Meanwhile, conservative Texas Agriculture Commissioner
Susan Combs, led the movement in favor of anti-soda legislation in
"It's time for some creative thinking about how to fund our schools
without corroding our students' health," said Ruskin.
As the nation's largest school districts take high-profile stands
against carbonated soft drinks, smaller districts are faced with the
question of whether or not to do the same.
The Illinois State Board of Education offers little in terms of guidelines.
The ISBE addresses soda sales in regards to the National School Lunch
Program, prohibiting the sale of foods of "minimal nutritional value,"
as defined by the U.S.D.A., during lunch periods at participating
"Other than that we recommend schools and districts provide healthy
food options," said Naomi Greene, a spokesperson for the ISBE. The
state board, however, offers no specific guidelines.
As such, districts are free to develop their own policies.
First, districts must decide what products to offer. Some area districts
have contracts that grant exclusive soda sales to one company: Freeport
has an exclusivity contract with Pepsi, as do Orangeville and Warren.
Galena, Mount Carroll and Oregon signed with Coke.
Savanna's school district has taken advantage of both companies' eagerness
to sell their products in schools, signing an exclusivity contract
with Coke for its high school and with Pepsi for its Chestnut Park
kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facility. As a result, Coca-Cola's
name can be seen on the high school football scoreboard, while Pepsi
is on the new scoreboards in the grade school gym.
Other districts reserve the right to offer its students competitive
brands, but in doing so forgo the signing bonuses that often come
with such contracts, such as Freeport's $91,000 yearly premium payment
from Pepsi or, more commonly, a new scoreboard.
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