For too many years, Los Angeles city schools were purveyors of empty-calorie, health-jeopardizing, sugary soda pop, sold to captive audiences of young students who were forming the eating and drinking habits they would take with them into adulthood. The Los Angeles Unified School District boldly and wisely banned sodas from school vending machines and cafeterias in 2002. But in an era in which people are
experiencing increases in obesity and diabetes, the city continues to peddle sugar-loaded drinks to Angelenos via vending machines in libraries and parks. Now Councilman Mitchell Englander wants to end such sales. It’s a good idea. The ban should move forward.
Englander’s proposal is nothing like the clunky, nanny-state tactics of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is seeking to ban big cups of sugary drinks from his city’s restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums and street carts. Unlike Bloomberg, Englander isn’t trying to tell private companies what they can sell or private citizens how much they can buy, eat or drink. No one would be blocked from leaving the basketball court and crossing the street to the food truck to buy and guzzle 64 ounces and 700-something calories of carbonated sugar water, if that’s what they really want to do. The point is that the city should be providing its people with healthier refreshment choices on site. It need not be in the junk-drink business.
At a Tuesday hearing, vending machine operators complained, predictably, that a ban would cost them money and jobs. And to be sure, the city library and parks vending machine contracts are huge, and they supply drink companies with thousands of thirsty potential customers. But no one is suggesting tossing out the vending machines. They could and should be stocked with more wholesome options.
Others testified that too little fresh, clean — and free — water is available at city facilities. Drinking fountains used to be commonplace but are harder to find. Properly operated and maintained, they need not be public health hazards. Los Angeles, after all, owns and operates a water utility, and shouldn’t we make its product more freely available to young (and middle-aged and old) athletes and readers? We should — and the council should make sure its study addresses how to make certain that city parks and libraries supply enough opportunities for a fresh drink of water even to those who don’t want to stuff a dollar in a machine.
But we can have both free water and vending machines that dispense healthy beverages. The primary purpose of cities should not be to package their citizens and sell them to soda pop vendors. Public parks and libraries, like schools, should be refuges from the sugar-smack frenzy of the commercial world.