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Can Michelle Obama Help Reduce Soda Consumption?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday October 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

250px-Soft_drink_shelfAmericans love soda, or pop, as it is called in some parts of the country. The love affair is one that is helping produce overweight and obese children, as a recent study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) points out. Perhaps there is a lady, one important lady, who can help Americans fall out of love with soda.

A recent Grist post called first lady Michelle Obama the “most influential voice on food policy in the country.” While speaking to 400 employees at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week, she mentioned the importance of eating healthy. “Little changes make a big difference,” Obama said, including “switching from soda to water.”

The website Listicles created a list of 5 Foods Michelle Obama Should Banish From American Diets, with soft drinks making the number five spot. “America’s addiction to sugar-saturated sodas is terrifying,” the author of the Listicles post writes, and considers it “no surprise” that vending machines are often the target of “advocates for better health policies.”

During Michelle Obama’s speech at the Department of HHS, she mentioned that $1 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is set aside for prevention and wellness programs, including $373 million “for communities that put together comprehensive plans to reduce obesity.” The plans would include “getting more healthy, affordable foods into vending machines.”

A press release last month that announced communities could apply for the $373 million available through the public health initiative, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), contained an example of the type of project which would be funded:

For example communities will work to make high-fat snack foods and sugar-sweetened beverages less available in schools and other community sites and to use media to promote healthy choices.

Banishing sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages from school vending machines would be a great way for communities to use the CPPW funds, and would create interesting stories for Michelle Obama to mention in speeches. According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, children choose to buy sodas and other sugar sweetened drinks three times more often (71 percent) in school vending machines.

Researchers analyzed the diet and purchases of almost 1,500 students in ten Massachusetts middle schools with vending machines, and found that the number of items bought from school vending machines directly related to overall sugar intake. The average number of servings of sugar-sweetened drinks a day increased 20 percent for children who bought one to three items a week, and 70 percent for those who bought four or more a week

“These findings suggest that school vending machines and fast-food restaurants make independent contributions to total [sugar-sweetened beverage] intake that increase with repeated exposure or use,” wrote researcher Jean Wiecha, Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues.


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