As Young Buy More Soda, A Victory for Consumers

Several states regulate the consumption of soft drinks in schools. The action does not work if the goal is to lower overall drinking of these products. Young people just buy their sugary drinks elsewhere. People who desire a popular item will find it where they can, if it is not available close at hand.

A new study by the Institute for Health Research and Policy examines the soda consumption of fifth and eighth graders in 40 states. The researchers wanted to know if sales restrictions in schools lowered the drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages. The conclusion was that “State policies that ban all SSBs in middle schools appear to reduce in-school access and purchasing of SSBs but do not reduce overall consumption.”

Soda is no different from tobacco, alcohol and several more-dangerous drugs. People who cannot smoke inside often go outside. People who drink too much will find alcohol, even if they are not supposed to drink it. And there is a multibillion underground economy in illicit drugs.

What the Health Research and Policy study does not show is that consumption patterns often are not linked to restrictions. Education is more likely to change behavior. Teenagers with a habit of high soda consumption may alter their behavior if they know they are more likely to be obese or diabetic. At least they have been warned rather than being restricted.

The new research fails to take into account that consumers of all kinds will find what they want to consume where they can find it. That is part of the behavior that makes them consumers. And it is one of the reasons the soft drink industry is so successful.

Douglas A. McIntyre