Australian Government Forces Aspartame on School Kids
Natasha Robinson / The Australian | April 25 2006
SUGAR-FILLED soft drinks will be banned from school canteens in Victoria next year.
But Australia's first state-imposed veto on sales of fizzy drinks to children has drawn fire from doctors who want water to be the only drink sold in school canteens across the nation.
Victorian Education Minister Lynne Kosky announced yesterday that schools would have the rest of this year to phase out high-kilojoule fizzy drinks and some sugar-added fruit drinks, but artificially sweetened soft drinks such as Coca-Cola Zero would be allowed.
She said fatty foods and lollies were also likely to be restricted, but ruled out a similar blanket ban. Those foods may only be allowed in schools on certain days of the week, Ms Kosky said.
The Victorian ban will come into effect as South Australia starts to phase in its own ban on junk food.
Under Premier Mike Rann's plan, junk foods such as hot chips and pies will be banned from school canteens from next year, with lollies and soft drinks to go by 2008.
NSW and Queensland do not have total bans on soft drink and junk foods, but have introduced a traffic-light system, where high-fat, high-sugar foods are classified as "red" and their sale is restricted to twice a term.
Ms Kosky said she was "quite alarmed" at the results of a government-commissioned joint research project by Deakin and Monash universities that showed one in 10 teenagers were drinking more than a litre of high-sugar sweet drinks every day. More than a third were drinking almost two cans a day, the research found.
Recent research from Sydney University shows diet and not exercise is the most important factor in reducing childhood obesity.
The study, involving more than 5400 students from 90 public schools in NSW, suggested overeating was the main reason for rising levels of obesity after researchers discovered today's children were exercising much more than those in the 1990s.
Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said yesterday that although sugar was a major problem for the quarter of all Australian children considered overweight or obese, low-calorie soft drinks were not the answer.
"We think that water has to be the go, because at the end of the day all the other fizzy drinks have problems associated with them," he said.
Dr Haikerwal said he would be seeking an urgent meeting with federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, who last week refused to support the restriction of junk food advertising to children.
The state restrictions on canteen sales is out of step with Mr Abbott's assertion that "the only people who are responsible for what goes into kids' mouths are the parents".
Ms Kosky said the Victorian Government's plan was designed to support parents in their battle to encourage children to eat healthily. "I think that parents will embrace it, and I think over time the students will as well," she said.
Darcy Wall, 11, from Williamstown North Primary School in Melbourne's west, may be hard to convince.
He has run for school council on a platform of "bring back the junk food" into his school's canteen.
But Darcy's mother, Penelope Watson, said she agreed with the ban on soft drinks. "It's a really good way of encouraging everyone else to stop buying the blasted things," she said.
"You've got to lead. You can't expect your children to make those sorts of decisions, because they can't."
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