Click to read about the best places to eat on campus, freshman packing tips, and how to keep in touch with friends.

EDITORIAL: School soda replacements are not healthy solutions

Sugary soda drinks will no longer be offered in K-12 schools in Hillsborough County, the St. Petersburg Times reported Saturday. The various Pepsi products occupying school vending machines as part of a 12-year, $50 million contract will be replaced with healthier beverage options for the 2008-2009 school year.

As part of a nationwide plan to combat childhood obesity endorsed by the American Heart Association, Pepsi will supply only bottled water to elementary schools and water and 10-ounce servings of 100 percent juice products to middle schools. High school machines will be stocked with diet soft drinks, low-calorie juices and teas, as well as sports drinks and fruit juices available in no more than 12-ounce servings.

While they may not be the syrupy, carbonated confections traditionally associated with bad health and bulging waistlines, the supposedly healthier alternatives provided by Pepsi are plagued with nutritionally unsound details of their own.

Dole and Tropicana juice drinks manufactured by Pepsi, for instance, all contain between 22 and 36 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving, while 8 ounces of Ocean Spray fruit juices have between 33 and 34 grams of sugar. Even watery sports drinks like Gatorade deliver a 22-gram sugary punch.

Meanwhile, 8 ounces of Pepsi contains 28 grams of the sweet stuff, and Mountain Dew has 31.

Though sugar-free, Pepsi’s light and diet beverage alternatives come chock full of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose – between 30 and 315 milligrams depending on one’s drink of choice. While the controversy over aspartame’s correlation with incidences of cancer and seizures has yet to be resolved, other side effects of consuming artificial sweeteners are well-documented.

In July 2004, the International Journal of Obesity published the research of two Purdue University professors that stated consuming artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose impair the body’s ability to regulate caloric intake and body weight. The study also pointed out that the dramatic spike in artificial sweetener consumption in the U.S. over the last 25 years has coincided with increases in overweight and obese incidences.

“Increased consumption of artificial sweeteners and of high-calorie beverages is not the sole cause of obesity, but it may be a contributing factor,” said Susan Swithers, one of the Purdue researchers.

The study stated that artificial sweeteners – usually much sweeter than real sugar – trick the body into thinking it will receive calories. When no calories arrive, the body compensates by sending signals to consume more, which can result in overeating.

In 2005, researchers at the University of Texas reported a 37 percent greater incidence of obesity among people who drank one can of diet soda daily.

While offering healthier beverages is a proactive step toward helping students develop healthier eating habits, swapping sodas for sugar-laden fruit juices and cocktails or artificially sweetened diet drinks is not. Hillsborough County students need comprehensive lessons about nutrition and the value of sustained exercise to truly develop healthy habits – lessons that must be taught in and outside the cafeteria.