Not all money is honorable and good. That's a difficult lesson to learn in a modern world where gambling is becoming acceptable and unethical behavior abounds.
But it is a lesson Utah's schools can't afford to miss.Is it acceptable for school districts to accept big money from soft drink companies in exchange for exclusive concession contracts and the right to advertise on campus? The answer may not seem as obvious as one that involves games of chance or peddling a pernicious product, but consider the current state of America's teenagers. According to several recent surveys, their health isn't so good.
Utah's districts, several of which are considering negotiating contracts with soft drink companies, ought to pay attention.
The Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tracking eating habits. According to the latest data, all Americans are eating far too little of the grains, fruits and vegetables that are important to good health. But teenagers, in particular, are consuming less milk and more other drinks than ever before. In fact, 74 percent of teenage males and 65 percent of females drank at least one soft drink a day in 1994, the latest year for which statistics are available.
At best, these are empty calories. At worst, they contain caffeine, a stimulant that is far too prevalent in the diets of all ages but is particularly harmful in early years. Caffeine affects the central nervous system. It makes children and teenagers overactive, irritable and anxious. It interferes with sleep and alters heart rhythm and rate, and it causes the body to dehydrate.
Even fruit juices, when taken in excess, can be harmful, leading to obesity. Twice as many of America's youngest children, those 5 and under, are obese today as compared with 20 years ago. Heart disease and hypertension now are becoming childhood concerns. Faced with these facts, schools ought to encourage healthy diets, not the consumption of snacks and soda pop.
But the money beckons. Already, the Cache School District has retained a national marketing company to negotiate a soft-drink contract. At least five other districts, including Jordan and Davis, have met to discuss forming a consortium that would do the same. The company that wins presumably would be allowed to advertise on campus.
The money is indeed enticing. One Texas school district reportedly will receive $4 million over 10 years. A Colorado Springs district is said to be getting $11 million over the same period. Utahns no doubt want their schools to find innovative, tax-free ways to raise money.
But make no mistake. Soft drink companies want these contracts because they intend to increase the consumption of their products. Utah's young people, like those in the rest of the nation, already consume too much. Ultimately, the price of this pot of gold would be too dear.