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Diet-Soda Ban in Schools Could Soon Be Lifted by Board of Education

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Colorado public-school kids might not have to traipse down to the 7-Eleven for their daily Diet Mountain Dew fix anymore. Diet sodas will likely be allowed back in the vending machines at Colorado’s public schools, thanks to the state Board of Education, which voted 4-3 Wednesday to change Colorado’s “Healthy Beverages Policy” to permit drinks other than water, milk and fruit juice to be sold in schools.

The decision came at the board’s regular meeting, held this month in Grand Junction. Because the board vote was not unanimous, procedural rules require the board to vote again when it meets next month. If the measure passes by a simple majority at that time, diet-soda drinkers can expect to see frosty cans in their schools' vending machines by the 2017-2018 school year.

Colorado banned diet-soda sales in public schools in 2009 as part of a broader effort to curb obesity and promote healthier habits. The ban was loudly decried by the soft-drink industry and by many schools and booster clubs that relied on profits from the sales of the drinks. Those same groups renewed their efforts and lobbied the board for the ban to be lifted, while nutrition advocates asked the board to keep sodas out of schools.

The GOP majority on the board voted in support of the measure. Chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said that with so many schools having open campuses, students already have easy access to soft drinks from the nearest convenience store. “It’s a mistake for parents to believe we can protect their children from these kinds of temptations,” he said at the meeting. Several other boardmembers who supported the change echoed the GOP refrain, favoring local control over federal regulations.

Boulder Democrat Angelika Schroeder voted against the change. “This is a contest between the beverage industry – which did contact us – school principals and boosters who want to make more money, and the health professionals and parents who want to protect kids,” she said at the meeting. “The best for Colorado kids is what we already have. I hate to see us going backwards. It’s a very poor message.”

Christine Dolan, a dietician for Garfield County Public health and an advocate for women’s and children’s health, agreed. “We should be sending the message that we value their health,” she said.

The move by the state board comes on the heels of a recent USDA decision that relaxed nutrition standards for food to be sold in schools to include diet sodas. The Colorado Department of Education recommended that the board change its rules to bring them in line with the federal guidelines, to ease the regulatory burden on school districts. If they choose, Colorado schools can still decide to impose stricter standards and keep the ban on diet soft drinks.

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