DENVER - When Colorado approved the Healthy Beverage Policy in 2009, Leslie Levine believed the state was going in the right direction by banning diet soda in high schools. Wednesday, she fears the state may take a big step backwards.
"If the Board of Education moves forward with this new policy, it will allow our high schools to sell diet soda again," Levine said.
She represents Livewell Colorado, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting obesity. Wednesday morning, the Colorado State Board of Education will vote on changing the regulations when it comes to the sale of "healthy beverages" in schools.
Right now, school districts have to comply with federal mandates along with state mandates when it comes to what types of drinks schools can serve. The state board wants to clarify those mandates by aligning Colorado regulations with federal regulations which do not ban diet soda from high schools.
"We believe that students deserve a healthy school environment. We know that that will promote their academic performance as well as their health," Levine said.
Levine says diet soda offers no nutritional value and may steer kids away from healthier choices like water and milk.
"If we allow our schools to sell diet soda, it opens up the opportunity for marketing in our schools of these unhealthy products," Levine said.
Matt Cook is the director of public policy and advocacy for the Colorado Association of School Boards. He says the matter is not necessarily about health.
"I think all of our members clearly care about the health of students. We know that some students have a problem with obesity," Cook said. "But, it really boils down to a local control issue that the locally elected school board should have the ability to decide what products they're going have to make available for students."
Cook believes the change will help school districts navigate the different regulations they have to follow.
"You have to be aware of first checking to make sure you're within the federal regulations and then making sure you comply with the state regulations," Cook said. "Its just one more layer of bureaucracy that local elected board shouldn't really have to deal with."
Jeremy West is president of the Colorado School Nutrition Association. West agrees with the change. He does not believe that diet soda will make a widespread comeback even if the change is approved.
"In talking to my other peers and other districts' directors, that's just something that's not a path that they are wanting to go down," West said.
But, he did say some districts will be tempted with the possibility of creating more revenue through diet soda sales.
"That may be a reason why a school district would choose to do that," West said.
Levine says that's a bad reason.
"We shouldn't be prioritizing finances over students' health," Levine said.
The State of Education will vote on Wednesday on the proposed regulation change.
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