Soft drinks, iced tea, and sports drinks are no longer going to be sold in primary educational institutions in Colombia. The National Association of Colombian Companies (ANDI), established these restrictions on the sale of sugary drinks in schools, specifically those with primary students. Instead, machines and cafeterias in these schools will be stocked with natural beverages like water and juice. This pact was signed by some of the largest beverage companies in the country such as Postobón, Pepsico, Coca Cola, Coca Cola FEMSA, Bavaria, RedBull, AJE and Monster Energy. These companies represent 76 percent of the non-alcoholic drinks volume traded in the market, not including dairy. It is expected than in January 2017 the five-point agreement will be finalized.
The first commitment in the agreement is to only sell treated or mineral drinking water, fruit drinks containing at least 12 percent real juice, and cereal-based beverages. Second, vending machines will no longer display the brands but instead, messages that promote healthy consumption habits. Companies have also agreed to implement a frontal labeling system that will contain the nutritional table including data on calories and sugar. The third commitment is the total cessation of direct advertising towards kids aged 12 and under. Additionally, with this, there will be a serious effort made on the promotion of healthy habits. Finally, each company is committed to providing a variety of packages with different serving sizes and caloric options.
We spoke with many educators from Barranquilla’s schools, and they all voiced their full approval for the agreement reached by ANDI. They consider it a significant contribution to the overall health of the children.
But one question is how will the project be regulated? Who will have ownership to ensure there is forward momentum? One particular challenge falls to school principals who manage facilities in which there are both primary and high school students. The ANDI agreement only covers the younger classes and so segregation may prove to be unmanageable.
Some of the teachers we spoke with expressed the need for collaboration with the parents.
“At our school, we implemented the sale of fruit and 100% fruit juices, but most of them are not popular among the kids. This is an issue of culture, which has to come from home. It begins at home, and here we complement it,” explained Ruth Rubio, Principal of New Granada District School.
Barranquilla Life: What do you think about the restriction of soft drinks from elementary students?
Patricia Van Den Enden (Teacher): “I find it fabulous that they have decided to restrict the consumption of soft drinks, and hopefully, this is not just for kids in primary, but also for high school students.”
Ana María Roa (Teacher and Mom): I feel it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children what to drink and when to drink it. A bottle of juice (not 100% real) is just as harmful as soda, and this ban should include all types of meals not only drinks. Students should not be allowed to eat “desgranados”, pastelitos, pizza, chips, etc. All meals should be planned by a professional nutritionist to provide the school with a menu that guarantees nutrition and suggests the appropriate serving size for children of different ages.
Armando Del Gallego (12 years old student): I believe it is not fair because I don’t consume these drinks every day, only occasionally, and since school is boring, and we spend a lot of time there, until 4 pm, the idea that we will not drink what we like is completely unfair.
The Ministry of Education also celebrated the voluntary agreement of the drink companies, calling it a triumph for health.
However, there are others who believe that this measure has another background. Many are saying that these companies are looking to take a step ahead the Ministry of Health and negate the upcoming proposal of a tax on sugary drinks. Last July, Minister Alejandro Gaviria proposed this tax be included in the tax reform, seeking to raise more resources for the health system. If it went through, there would be a double victory. On one hand, the system would have $ 1.89 billion more in tax revenue, and secondly, there would be a reduction in the now high rates of obesity afflicting Colombia.
Jorge Pasos (Parent): It must be that the sale of soda in elementary schools represents a very low percentage of the total sales. With this measure, they stop selling sugary drinks but will increase sales of fruit -based drinks. One for another. I don’t believe that they are considering the health of their customers. If that were true, they would no longer sell that product at all – instead, they’d only sell commercialized drinks that don’t generate damage from excessive consumption.
In the final analysis, any agreement, any program to limit students’ consumption of sweetened beverages will need more than just one approach to fulfilling the goal. There is a tremendous amount of variation in how to coordinate all the efforts coming from all the possible parts: Producer companies, the Government, Schools, parents, and other members of the community where children live and play. It is not impossible to make drastic changes when it comes to kids. All they need are great role models, and that is the most consistent message.