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Should Diet Sodas be Sold in School?
I’m sure you know that our school only sells diet soda. Wisconsin passed legislation requiring schools to sell only diet soda to hopefully decrease the number of obese kids in schools. This view is shared by many schools and parents. But they don’t know the dark side of diet soda.
Soda companies keep calories in their diet sodas down with artificial sweeteners. I’m sure you’ve heard of NutraSweet, Sweet N’ Low, and Splenda; those are all artificial sweeteners. They seem harmless and having a substance that replicates the taste of sugar and still has very few calories, there could be nothing better. But, you don’t realize that many chemicals go into making artificial sweeteners.
The four main chemicals in artificial sweeteners are Aspartame, Cyclamates, Saccharin, and Sucralose, the most famous of them being Aspartame and Saccharin. The Health hazards of these chemicals have been debated since their discoveries nearly a century ago. To know why these are debated, it is necessary to know about the chemicals themselves.
The first one is Saccharin. In 1906, Saccharin was mistakenly invented by a scientist using coal tar (yes coal tar). In 1907 the USDA began investigating it and has been on and off since then. Studies have found when feeding lab rats this chemical in artificial sweeteners, bladder cancer was more likely, especially in males. This led the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to make products containing saccharin, carry a health label warning that, “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains Saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."
Aspartame has taken the place of Saccharin as the most used chemical in artificial sweeteners and diet soda. Aspartame is also the only chemical on the list that is rated under the NFPA 704 (the system used to determine chemical hazards). You might be more familiar with this as the diamond with red, blue, yellow, and white on it, printed on the sides of propane tanks for outdoor grills. In some products it is manufactured using modified variations of E. coli (The reason Pewaukee Lake was closed last year was because of E. coli).
Aspartame is patented and made by the Herbicide and pesticide company, Monsanto, the same company that was sued by vets after the Vietnam War for their production of the defoliant, Agent Orange. This chemical not only gave American soldiers cancer, but was also the cause of cancer in many Vietnamese citizens. It was also the cause of many birth defects in children born after the war. The U.S. government also sued Monsanto for production of the chemical saccharin (yep, the artificial sweetener).
Aspartame caused cancer in rats during scientific studies. But more importantly, it is linked to brain cancer. Aspartame was so controversial that after the FDA approved its use in carbonated beverages, the NSDA (National Soft Drink Association) protested the FDA’s decision. The main reason diet soda is made, to reduce weight gain commonly associated with regular soda, is made worse by Aspartame. Studies show chronic ingestion of Aspartame (such as drinking diet soda, or coffee sweetened by it) reduces Leptin (what controls food intake and energy expenditure) production in your body by 34%.
With all of these health risks you may be asking yourself why has the FDA not banned there use in soda? Well consider this: the senior vice president of Monsanto, Dr. Michael A. Fredman, was a deputy commissioner of the FDA before he was hired at Monsanto. Vice president on Monsanto from 1995-2000, Linda J. Fisher, was the assistant administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency before she was hired at Monsanto, and after she left, she became the deputy administrator of the EPA. And in 2008, Monsanto spent $8,831,120 on lobbying.
Given these factors, soda companies continue to make their products using Aspartame and schools continue to sell them to students. Some of the sodas that use Aspartame are Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Coke Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Diet Mountain Dew. Remember, that’s just a few. Many of these sodas are sold in Arrowhead’s cafeteria and soda machines, and are given as the only choice of soda.
Knowing all of this, should diet soda be sold in schools?