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W.Va. Mulls Soda Ban

January 8, 2008
By SHELLEY HANSON With AP Dispatches
WHEELING — Some state lawmakers want to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks and snacks in West Virginia schools.

After learning recently how bad residents’ oral health has become, the legislators believe the ban also could decrease obesity rates in addition to improving dental health in the Mountain State.

According to the Associated Press, about 20 counties have similar, voluntary guidelines in place, but the legislation would make it mandatory in all 55 counties.

Lawrence Miller, superintendent of Ohio County Schools, said sugary soda and snacks were banned in his school system 10 years ago.

‘‘We were the first in the state to do that,’’ Miller said, noting it was done to help improve students’ health.

The bill would only allow the sale of water, fruit and vegetable juices, and some types of milk. It also would restrict snacks to fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, nuts and seeds in servings of 200 calories or less. The measure is similar to a proposal being considered by the state Board of Education.

Miller said his school system would have no problem complying with such a ban because of the measures it already has taken.

‘‘Our biggest seller is bottled water,’’ Miller noted.

State Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, also is concerned about dental health and obesity rates across the state.

‘‘With all the efforts that have been made so far, we still have a growing population — not in terms of numbers, but in terms of size,’’ Stollings said.

An unintended consequence of the bill, though, may be to cut revenue at schools that depend on the sales of snacks and soft drinks for everything from class trips to equipment. Last year, the revenue from soft drinks alone was worth more than $26,000 to Capital High School in Charleston, said Principal Clinton Giles. Giles supports the goal of the legislation but wants a discussion about other options for schools.

‘‘I would offer today to remove all vending machines from our schools if someone would come up with a way to replace the revenue we get from those machines,’’ he said.

Giles also said that, based on sales figures, Capital High students buy roughly 6 ounces of soda per student per week.

Miller noted, however, that his students have embraced the more healthy choices in vending machines.

‘‘For our people, it’s become second nature,’’ Miller said.

Also, in terms of revenue, many schools hold alternative fundraisers, such as sales of candy bars to the public, to collect money for extracurricular items or activities, Miller said.

To further address oral health, the legislative interim committee pushing the bill also recommended passage of another bill that would create a state Office of Oral Health with a full-time director.

The office would be charged with promoting better oral health throughout West Virginia, including supporting efforts to require dental inspection for students in elementary school.

‘‘We did something new,’’ said Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, one of the two chairmen of the committee. ‘‘I think it’s extraordinarily productive.’’

Miller noted he would be in favor of dental inspections for elementary students, as it was done in the past many years ago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61.4 percent of adults across West Virginia visited dentists in 2006, down from 62.5 percent in 2004. The state ranks 47th, with only three states reporting fewer visits: Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arkansas.

Last year, members of a West Virginia Dental Association task force described the state’s overall oral health as a ‘‘crisis.’’

One problem Bridgeport, Ohio, Dentist Charles Dematte said he continues to notice is young children with a lot of tooth decay, caused by them continuously consuming sugary drinks and milk in sippy cups and bottles.

‘‘Parents have a tendency to give them milk and juice and let them drink at-will. This is a constant bath of sugar,’’ Dematte said.

He recommended limiting a child’s drinking time to reduce their teeth’s exposure to sugar.

About 30 minutes or less of drinking at a time is recommended. Parents also may want to replace some of those sugary drinks with water instead, or give water between servings of juice, milk, soda or any other beverage containing sugar.

 
 

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