Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Sugar Kids Bring from Home

Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Yesterday I wrote about the chairman of the D.C. Council relying on "research" conducted by a six-year-old to conclude that city schools should bring chocolate milk back to the cafeterias. As I noted there, children may not be the best sources for nutritional advice. Given a choice, they will always pick sugar over real food.

I do not exaggerate. Take a look at this photo from the lunch room at my daughter's inner-city elementary school a year ago. This fourth-grader's lunch from home consists of a 12-ounce can of Sprite, a gigantic cupcake (she'd already licked off the icing), a bag of Oreo cookies and a lollipop.

In case you're wondering, a 12-ounce can of sprite contains 36 grams of added sugar (high-fructose corn syrup), or 9 teaspoons.

Also that year, kids were bringing this Safeway brand cola to school. I'm not sure how much sugar is in it, but you can bet it's a lot.

Things didn't change this year, when my daughter transferred to fifth grade at an elementary school in a more affluent part of the city. Except the sodas have gotten bigger. This 20-ounce bottle of Sprite contains 60 grams of added sugar, or 15 teaspoons worth.

Some kids at least skip the sugar by bringing diet sodas. Does that make it okay?

This boy was nursing a 32-ounce bottle of orange-flavored Gatorade Power G. An 8-ounce serving delivers 14 grams of sugar--about the same amount added to a typical carton of chocolate milk. Do the math, however, and you see that this is just one-fourth of the sugar in the entire bottle, which contains a whopping 14 teaspoons of sugar.

The same boy then pulled out a foil pouch of Kool Aid "Jammers," tropical punch flavored. This 6-ounce serving contains 19 grams of sugar--nearly five teaspoons worth--making it even more potent than the Sprite.

What do you think? Should schools do something about children bringing sodas with their lunch?


  1. It would seem excessive to limit what children bring from home. Although, if parents have no more sense than to pack sugar water for lunch then maybe it's time to change that policy.

  2. I think that would be overstepping the mark. However, perhaps some sort of curriculum could be rolled out to educate the kids in the same manner that they are educated on gun safety or AIDS. It could be part of the Phy.Ed program. When I speak with my children about these topics, they understand and they know that what are the smart choices, and generally they will make them and save the other stuff for 'treats'. Most parents I know are unaware of the facts around sugary drinks - sports drinks, flavored milk and hand them out with abandon to their kids. However, most parents are concerned about their child becoming obese.

  3. Are most parents just clueless or just don't care? When I approached our school about our tuckshop (school in South Africa) I was told that it would never make a profit if healthy options added. So when did the profit become more important than the health of our kids?

  4. As a parent, I don't like limits on what my child can bring in their lunch (our school has a no nuts policy, for example - which I think is ridiculous - even those both of of my boys have severe food allergies to some nuts.) That said, there is absolutely no nutritive value in soda and "sports" drinks whatsoever so it is hard to see how one can justify them at school. I would certainly be happy about a ban on soda, but I do worry about the "slippery slope" of banning other foods/drinks.

    One additional consideration, is that parents and kids may be reaching for sodas/sports drinks because many schools (over half in our urban district of Pasadena, CA) do not give kids good access to water. There are few operating drinking fountains and in many cases none at all in the cafeterias and students must ask for a pass just to get a drink of water during lunch unless they have brought along water in a bottle. Not that I think soda is an appropriate substitute for water, but perhaps many kids grab one to take to school (their family may not buy bottled water nor have reusable water bottles) just to have something to drink at lunch.