Should cash strapped school boards be peddling pop to increase revenue?
In an unsurprising vote last night, Toronto School Trustees supported a one-year extension to keep 560 pop machines dispensing chemical-laden, tooth-rotting, spaz-inducing pop in our schools for our increasingly chubby kids.
The pop machines, distributed over 257 Toronto-area schools, bring in about $500,000 a year in revenue. But agreeing to keep these machines for half-a-million bucks is a Faustian bargain.
A few things to ponder:
Pepsi, the vendor of choice, has offered “diet” pop as a “healthful” alternative. The sweet ingredient in diet drinks is aspartame. Aspartame continues to be the focus of much research, some of it conflicting, little of it offering a longitudinal perspective (that is, what are the long-term effects of frequent aspartame consumption).
In 2005, in an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers at the European Ramazzini Foundation found a causal link, while studying rats, between aspartame consumption and increased leukemia, lymphoma and breast cancer. Applying a longitudinal perspective, researchers warned that lifetime exposure to aspartame, beginning at the fetal stage, increases carcinogenic effects.
But the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found aspartame to still be safe and sets guidelines for aspartame daily intake to not exceed 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (a 150-pound person could “safely” consume 7.5 diet pops a day.)
In 2007, in the International Journal of Morphology (25(4): 689-694), a study was conducted on the effects of aspartame on fetal kidney development in rats. Findings indicated that aspartame altered renal structures, thus indicating aspartame as a possible nephrotoxin.
An article in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (2007, 13(4): 446-448) demands that the FDA reconsider its position on aspartame as animal studies show a potential risk associated with aspartame consumption in humans.
And the debate continues with those opposed to aspartame consumption noting that we need more long-term studies and asking that we exercise the precautionary principle in the meantime.
Indeed, shouldn’t we be cautious about giving our kids aspartame until we are certain as to whether it’s benign or deleterious to human health? No one needs to drink diet beverages, so why can’t we hold off until we can confirm the science?
Further, the flimsy argument made by one trustee is that kids will simply go to the corner store and maybe get a discount on two Cokes and a chocolate bar (I’m not kidding. Trustee James Pasternak, hopefully no relation to the erudite Boris, made this weak claim).
If a corner store is in the school neighbourhood, it will be frequented during lunch and after school by some students. That will be true with or without school pop machines.
The point of a school pop-machine ban is twofold: the first is to make it harder to buy pop when you have five minutes to run between classes; the second is the message we send to our kids. Trustees Cathy Dandy and Sheila Cary-Meagher point out the hypocrisy in promoting nutritious meals and then having pop on-site. More concerning is that profits made from the pop machines pay for school breakfast and snack programs. Cary-Meagher called this arrangement “immoral”, and she’s right. (a third point: what about water fountains? I suppose the bottled-water industry has scared everyone away from this source of hydration)
Finally, how has it come to this? Politicians talk about kids being our future. Well, of course kids are. It’s a logical statement, but implicit in this declaration is that we have to educate our kids, keep them healthy, make their development a critical priority because in a few years they will take care of us and run our civilization.
That we have starved our school system to the point that it has to take dirty money from Pepsi and $100,000 from Future Shop to fund a computer lab speaks to our collective stupidity. Never, ever should our education system be so impoverished that we are left playing games with our children’s health or striking odious deals just so we can scrape a couple of bucks together.
I hear oldsters complain about kids not knowing basic facts. I’m not sure this is entirely true and the body of information kids are expected to learn has increased since boomers were in school, but shouldn’t we ensure that our education system is well-funded? In fact, shouldn’t it, along with health care, be two of the most important social services we as a society support?
The next time you walk into an ER or send your parents into an old-age home or have an electrician hook up juice to your house or have a Prime Minister lead your country or have a mechanic fix the brakes on your car, think about how essential it is that we give our kids the very best education and that we don’t make shortsighted, small-minded deals with the devil to support what we should be doing as a society.