Colorado Could Lift Diet Soda Ban In High Schools

The Colorado State Board of Education is considering allowing diet soda back in high schools after a seven-year ban.

Colorado prohibited soda and diet soda in high school cafeterias and vending machines in 2009, but new federal rules released last month allow diet drinks in schools. To avoid districts having to follow conflicting guidelines, state education officials are now recommending a change.

The possible shift has drawn criticism from health advocates.

“If we have those diet choices available it’s likely that it’s going to displace some healthier options like water and like plain milk,” said Leslie Levine with the advocacy group Livewell Colorado. She says studies show diet soda’s artificial sweeteners aren’t good for the body, and that soda harms teeth.

“We need our kids to be in school, healthy and ready to learn,” Levine said. “And we don’t think that diet soda is a good match for keeping our students healthy and being able to succeed academically.”

Brehan Riley, director of the office of school nutrition at the Colorado Department of Education, says making districts follow two sets of guidelines can be challenging.

For example, she says, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a children’s health non-profit, released a product calculator for school districts to help them figure out what they can sell at school according to the new federal guidelines.

“But in Colorado, they can only use that resource for food,” Riley said. She added that federal rules require local communities to develop their own local school wellness policies. Even if the board lifts the ban, individual districts can still decide to keep diet soda out of schools.

The state board will consider the new rules at their meeting this week in Grand Junction.