Adolescence, a time characterized by euphoria, independence, and a desire for instant gratification, can often be fueled by poor-decision making and a lack of proper judgement. In these habit-forming years, the simplest of choices, such as selecting a beverage, can have a life-long impact. Constantly driven by their appetite for instant pleasure, along with the widespread accessibility to sodas and sugary beverages, teenagers are using faulty judgement and selecting the unhealthy drinks, contributing to their own deteriorating health.
Due to the immense magnitude of the most seemingly innocuous choices on their future, teenagers need and deserve guidance in choosing the healthy options for their own benefit. As a consequence, schools are increasingly taking preventive measures to ensure healthy lifestyles for their students and are thus reducing the sale of sugary drinks on school property.
Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) exemplifies this course of action with its current guidelines on sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) availability. Despite their well-intentioned nature of improving the health of teenage students, these regulations have often proven to be ineffective, and a multi-faceted strategy, rather than a sole prohibition, is required to combat soda consumption. Moreover, by banning SSBs, schools face potentially significant economic consequences.
However, since consuming sugary beverages causes health ramifications such as obesity and hindrance on healthy development, type 2 diabetes, and deteriorated mental health, school districts such as BVSD are justified in limiting the sale of these beverages in secondary schools, but ultimately should also consider utilizing other strategies besides simply nutritional guidelines to improve the health of students. Health concerns are often the principal impetus for school policies regarding food and nutrition options.
Since students spend nearly 13 years in school, educational institutions are influential in the students’ development. School districts take on the responsibility of guiding students towards healthier lives and often believe in “actively [practicing] through policy and procedures the promotion of family health and good nutrition” (“Wellness Policy” 1). With pediatric obesity and type 2 diabetes on the rise, often as a result of high amounts of sugar in school cafeteria foods and beverages, some schools were prompted to help solve the problem (Taber et al, “Vending Machines” 1).
The solution they sought to implement was to reduce the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in the high school community. This goal manifested itself in the nutritional guidelines and standards on beverages sold at school as well as outright bans on certain items in the secondary environment. By enacting such policies, schools demonstrate their commitment to combating the health issues that most concern adolescents. Obesity, which can be caused by the immense amounts of sugar in SSBs, is an example of one of these issues that relates to much of the teenage population.
Obesity has ravaged American adolescents; in the past twenty years alone, the percentage of overweight 12-19 year olds has skyrocketed to 16. 1% (Williams et al 217). Not only is the sheer amount of obese teenagers disquieting for schools and pediatricians alike, but the health-related issues associated with being overweight at an early age is also of paramount concern. Youth obesity has been linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome, all harmful diseases which can have a lasting impact on an individual (Williams et al 218).
Regulations on sugar-sweetened beverages come not only as a result of these serious impacts but also due to these products being a major contributor to weight gain. The consumption of these beverages has been associated with excess energy and calories (Taber et al, “Policies Targeting Junk Food” 1769). Currently, 80% of the youth, primarily adolescents, drinks at least one SSB daily, accounting for up to 28% of their daily caloric intake (Smith and Holloman 177).
Furthermore, the odds of becoming obese at a young age increase by a factor of 1. with every additional serving of a sugary beverage on a daily basis (Smith and Holloman 178). As a result, schools and districts have been concentrating efforts to tackle the problem at its earliest stage and reduce access to these harmful products to adolescents. Increased risk of obesity, however, is not the only consequence caused by sugar-sweetened beverages. The disease most often associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, is also caused by a high intake of sugar and is equally devastating to younger populations.
A high Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of the greatest risk factors of type 2 diabetes and due to the prevalence of obesity in adolescents, this type of diabetes is increasingly common among younger people (Lee 1). The development of adolescents with type 2 diabetes is seriously threatened, often resulting in unfavorable health at an earlier age. Due to the lack of control on blood glucose levels, a byproduct of SSB consumption and diabetes, life-threatening implications emanate such as the loss of proper functionality in the kidney, heart, and eyes (Dovey-Pearce et al 75).
Not only are adolescents with type 2 diabetes hindered in physical development but in mental and psychosocial development as well. Diabetic teenagers suffer from “social isolation, fear of intimacy, difficulties with future life decisions, fear of stigma, depression, and separation issues” (Dovey-Pearce et al 77). This lack of social confidence comes at a critical time when adolescents are amidst the process of developing their sense of identity, autonomy, and adulthood (Dovey-Pearce et al 78).
As a consequence, teenagers diagnosed with this disease are inherently put in a worse position in terms of both mental and physical state. Thus, it is increasingly important that one of the main factors leading to this disease, high amounts of sugar, especially in the form of a beverage, has limited accessibility to teenagers. Mental condition changes incited by type 2 diabetes is only one example of psychological impacts brought on by SSBs. The consumption of soda, along with the its severe physical impacts, has a lasting affect on the mind and behavior.
A study conducted on teenagers in Norway, a population with an above average soda consumption, concluded that “high consumption levels of sugar-containing soft drinks were associated with mental health problems among adolescents” (Lien et al 1815). The study determined that those who consumed between 1 and 6 sugary drinks a week were more prone to mental problems such as hyperactivity, mental distress, and conductivity (Lien et al 1817). In addition to such psychological issues, obesity and type 2 diabetes caused by high sugar intake are linked to depression and suicidal thoughts.
In his research regarding impaired glucose metabolism and suicidal thoughts, Hannu Koponen claims that depression is brought on by “reduced serotonin levels [associated] with increased weight, increased waist circumference, elevated blood glucose levels and insulin resistance” (Koponen et al 2). Despite the fact that Koponen’s study was administered on 35 year old patients, it is logical to assume adolescents will suffer from a similar fate since teenagers also experience heightened blood glucose levels and insulin resistance as a result of SSB consumption.
Ultimately, the health concerns, both physical and mental, that stem from the consumption of sugary drinks, drive the claim that access to such beverages should be limited to adolescents. However, the sale of SSBs are an important contributor to the local and national economy, and reducing access to its largest cohort of consumers, such as the policies under BVSD would potentially do, could be crippling. Similar to the Boulder Valley School District, California’s Senate passed a bill implementing the enforcement of nutritional guidelines on foods offered in K-12 schools, which lead to a decrease in economic benefits for those institutions.
As a result, the cafeterias in those schools suffered a substantial loss in sales and revenue on items such as chips, soda, and candy did not meet standards. The proportion of students visiting four food venues at these schools, including the vending machines, snack bars, stores, and fundraisers, dropped by almost 10% (Woodward-Lopez et al 2141). As a consequence, these food venues experienced a total decrease in revenue of nearly 5% (Woodward-Lopez et al 2141).
Despite a loss in revenue and sale specific to sugary beverages and foods, schools under the policies experienced an increase in meal participation programs. The increased participation in programs led to enough monetary compensation “that all schools experienced an increase in total revenues” (Woodward-Lopez et al 2141). The positive economic effects of limiting sugary beverages can be extended and applied beyond the school as well. With the limitation of SSBs in schools and the resulting reduction in obesity and other health-related issues, the country benefits in terms of national healthcare.
According to David R. Rappange in his study concerning healthcare costs and obesity prevention, “an obese person incurs higher medical costs for each of the healthcare segments than a person in the ‘healthy-living’ cohort, at all ages” (Rappange et al 1036). The study concluded that by converting those who are obese into “healthier people” the country would save costs in all aspects of healthcare: hospitalization, medication, general practitioner care, and long term care.
The compensation from meal programs and the savings from healthcare costs of future populations outweigh the loss of revenue experienced at certain school venues (Rappange et al 1037). Thus, regulating the sale of sodas by schools and school districts such as Boulder Valley would be beneficial in both health and economic aspects. The Boulder Valley School District seeks to ultimately promote good health and nutrition through its use of policies in the school environment. This principle is reflected within its current guidelines and standards on the sale of sodas and similar sugar-sweetened beverages.
Documented in its most recent wellness and nutritional guidelines, BVSD states that “students will not be involved in or have access to the sale of candy, sodas, cookies and sweets that do not meet the Smart Snack Guidelines” (“Wellness Policy” 2). Prior to the Smart Snack guidelines, standards created by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, beverages containing hundreds of empty calories, such as most sodas and SSBs were permitted to be available in school environments (“Smart Snacks” 1).
With adherence to Smart Snacks’ suggestions, high schools are prevented from selling beverages that were not calorie-free flavored water, milk, or 100% fruit juice (“Smart Snacks” 2). Additionally, BVSD prevents the sale of any beverages containing high fructose corn syrup or nonnutritive sweeteners. Though the policies of Boulder Valley align with the Smart Snacks standards, BVSD only applies their rules to the regular school day and thus is less stringent to the sale of SSBs outside of normal hours (“Wellness Policy” 3).
Ultimately, BVSD’s current guidelines and policies on the limitation of sugar-sweetened beverage availability should be maintained. However, they do not have the potential of influencing the health of secondary students by themselves. The regulations provided in schools are a strategy to resolve the issue of sugar consumption, but are often ineffective or have no impact in affecting the health of students. In his study involving the relationship between policy and soda consumption, Daniel R.
Taber concludes that “despite the association between policy change and soda consumption, there was no association between policy change and BMI percentile” (Taber et al, “Policies Targeting Junk Food” 1773). When schools limit the availability of certain beverages on their premises, adolescents often resort to other outlets to purchase their sugary drinks, and thus the student’s health or BMI is not reflective of any improvement. Schools which place policies on beverages have students who visit “convenience stores, restaurants, and other food outlets” on a more daily basis (Taber et al, “Policies Targeting Junk Food” 1773).
As a result, schools and school districts that simply enact bans or limitations within its own environment may not be effective in improving the health of students. In order to combat this situation, school districts, such as BVSD, should create partnerships with local outlets and encourage them to limit their sales of SSBs. Moreover, it has been proven that “student-directed efforts to support behavioral change are effective and efficient at affecting individual lifestyle behaviors” (Smith and Holloman 183).
The establishment of Teen Advisory Councils, which would discourage the consumption of sugary beverages, in tandem with school regulations and local partnerships, could aid the process of improving lifestyles and reducing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and mental disease. Concentrated efforts must be made and directed towards situating the issue of the increasing population and proportion of teens contracting health issues related to SSBs. Obesity and type 2 diabetes threaten the health of adolescents by harming the proper functionality in their vital organs in addition to deteriorating their mental condition.
Thus, in order to alleviate the current dilemma, school districts have legitimacy in placing limits on the availability of SSBs. These policies by themselves, however, are ineffective in improving the health of students and school districts and need to be compounded with other strategies in order to create a more efficient solution. Specifically, the Boulder Valley School District, with its current implementation of a “wellness policy,” should create local partnerships with restaurants and food vendors and discourage the consumption of sugary beverages.
Furthermore, if BVSD established Teen Advisory Councils with the intention of promoting healthy lifestyles, the likelihood of enhanced health in students would be higher. Ultimately, by improving the health of people at an earlier age, their lives will likely be more prosperous and worthwhile, and every effort should be made to make the possibility tangible, even if it means occasionally losing a nice, cool refreshment on a warm summer day.