London school takes hard line on soft drinks

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

London Letter:For some, it has already been dubbed Prohibition-Lite. This month, Acland Burghley School in Tufnell Park in north London became a “water only” school, banning the consumption or carriage of soft drinks outside of breakfast clubs or schools.

The news to parents came in a newsletter. Too many students were regularly drinking fizzy or sugary drinks, it said, leading to tooth decay and weight increases, as well as interfering with pupils’ ability to concentrate.

The ban, unpopular with some students, includes fruit juices, since coloured liquids of any kind could cause confusion in the classroom, or grounds, while teachers wanted to avoid having to examine drinks closely.

“Students are fully aware that water is a clean, free and healthy drink and that, in comparison, a bottle of Lucozade containing 27 spoons of sugar is only damaging their health,” the school’s head teacher, Jo Armitage, said.

“Schools are responsible for showing young people that their own behaviour impacts on their health.” She noted that children would not pick the healthy option if they were left free to choose between the good and the bad.

So far, the school says the ban is being obeyed, “with just a tiny handful of dissenters”, although pupils have already begun to mutter about speakeasies operating at the school’s boundaries, copying the example set by in the musical Bugsy Malone.

“There is business potential now there’s a gap in the market,” pupil, Jake Phillips (15) . “Gangsters sold alcohol in America when that was banned. Prohibition always leads to supply and demand.”

The Acland Burghley move comes as a number of soft-drinks brands, Lucozade, Ribena and J20, sign up to the British government’s effort to get the food and drinks industry voluntarily to cut down on harmful additives.

Ribena and Lucozade Energy will reduce the amount of sugar and calories by 10 per cent, e AG Barr, the makers of a Scottish icon, IrnBru, will drop their figures by 5 per cent, while another, J2O, has pledged to launch a new drink with 10 per cent less.

Public health minister Anna Soubry, who provoked controversy, albeit the private agreement of many, by saying that the diets of the poor made them fat, said: “Being overweight and not eating well is bad for our health.

“To reverse the rising tide of obesity, we have challenged the nation to reduce our calorie intake by 5 billion calories a day. On average, that’s just 100 calories less a day per person.”

Evidence of the problems caused by soft drinks keeps coming. Last month, a 10-year study in the US claimed that those who drank more than four soft drinks a day were a third more likely to suffer depression.

The problem is particularly acute with those who favour diet drinks, which the researchers blamed on the use of the sweetener aspartame – even though it received a clean bill of health from European Union regulators last month.

Frequently accused of being out of touch with reality, Britain’s coalition leaders – David Cameron and Nick Clegg – and Labour’s Ed Miliband – are all men in their 40s struggling like their compatriots in the outside world to raise children.

“As someone who is trying to bring up three children without excessive amounts of Coca-Cola, I know exactly how big this challenge is,” the prime minister ruefully told Labour’s Keith Vaz during a recent prime minister’s questions.

Many, however, insist that the British policy – one that was in place before Soubry took up office – is wrong-headed, saying that industry should be instructed to cut down on sugar and salt and not simply asked to do so.

However, Soubry insists that progress is being made in the Government’s Responsibility Deal. Nearly 500 companies have signed up.

“All in the food industry have a part to play and I now expect companies which are not yet taking action to come forward and make pledges.”

Even if people are divided on what should be done, few doubt the need for action. England has one of the worst obesity rates in the Western world, with nearly two-thirds of adults and one-third of 10- and 11-year-olds overweight.

Back on Burghley Road, the students have more immediate concerns. Sam Blundell (15), told his local newspaper it could not be enforced.

“You can watch out for not wearing the dress code or behaviour, but not someone’s health. They can’t check pockets or bags because it’s an invasion of privacy and all the kids know that. Kids will find an alternative anyway.

“Trying to separate us from a bit of junk food is like trying to put a divide between eggs and bacon – it won’t work because it’s a part of tradition.”