Sugar Coated

This Baylor medical "expert" cashed in on infomercials. Now he's showing how things go better with Coke.

"I don't have any idea," Short says. "I'm a part of the Beverage Institute."

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a little more certain: Eliminate soda and sugar-laden juices from schools, the academy stated in a 2004 policy.

"Parents and school authorities generally are uninformed about the potential risk to the health of their children that may be associated with the unrestricted consumption of soft drinks," the policy states.

Al Cameron

Fine. But Coke's products include Dasani, a bottled water that offers a soda alternative. In some districts, however, Dasani costs a buck, compared to 60 cents for a can of soda, making the latter the more attractive choice for many high-schoolers.

Moreover, state soft drink lobbying groups around the country have fought legislation that would ban soda from schools. And soda's not the only culprit, according to the pediatrics academy. Some juices are loaded with so much sugar that they're nearly as bad as soda. And the sweetness factor is a big problem in some school districts.

In West Virginia, a soft drink lobby (including Coca-Cola) managed to get the definition of "healthy" changed in a bill regulating beverage sales in schools. A state House committee in March upped the acceptable amount of sugar in drinks like Coke's Powerade from ten to 15 grams, according to the Charleston Gazette.

It's no surprise that Coca-Cola would push for sweetened drinks.

The Beverage Institute was part of a 2004 summit in Mexico City called "Managing Sweetness." The summit was sponsored by artificial sweetener manufacturers, including Tate & Lyle, which recently teamed with Coca-Cola to launch a line of Diet Coke containing Tate & Lyle's Splenda artificial sweetener.

The summit's "Scientific Consensus Committee," which includes Foreyt, concluded that "sugars and all approved low-caloric and non-caloric sweeteners are safe, and they offer useful options that can help consumers manage sweetness."

As a proponent of sugar and artificial sweeteners, it's no surprise that Foreyt is skeptical of the popular Sugar Busters diet.

"When people put forward an alternative program, I think they ought to do studies and publish their data and submit the studies for peer review," Foreyt told The Washington Post in 1998. "Until we get them, I don't think it should be considered a healthful approach to long-term weight management."

Foreyt made this statement two years after he appeared on the infomercial for AromaTrim, which, curiously, was never the subject of peer-reviewed articles in The New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet.

After completing a five-year, $5 million contract with Coca-Cola, the Houston School District's Board of Education renewed the contract last week. HISD expects to earn nearly $8.5 million over five years.

There are a few changes: Vending machine soft drinks won't be sold during lunch "in any area designated for students to eat lunch in"; 20-ounce drinks no longer will be available; and soft drinks will be restricted to a 12-ounce maximum. Soft drinks, as usual, will not be available in elementary schools.

So while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools eliminate soda and sweetened juices, Coca-Cola is spending millions of dollars a year to keep its vending machines in close range of a target market.

Meanwhile, the company's Beverage Institute claims to be devoted to educating people how to lead healthier lives. Essentially, the institute must decide whether consumers should drink its own company's products.

So far, with the help of Foreyt, Baylor College of Medicine and Coca-Cola, the answer is a resounding yes. Coke, it seems, really is it. Could AromaCoke be around the corner?

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