Alaska Native health officials declare war on soda pop

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Native health officials declared war Monday on soda pop and vowed to try to reduce sales in Native communities and schools.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which provides health services to more than 110,000 Alaska Natives, said it will start by asking vendors at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage to stock their machines with healthier alternatives such as juice and water.

The consortium also is planning to send a letter to store managers in hundreds of Alaska communities asking for their cooperation, said spokeswoman Joaqlin Estus.

''As a distributor of foods and beverages for your community, we are asking that you be sure to make available healthy alternatives, such as sugar-free or low-sugar beverages. Our people cannot make healthy lifestyle changes without your assistance,'' a draft letter says.

The consortium says one 12-ounce can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, and a 32-ounce soda has 26 teaspoons of sugar.

''Our ultimate goal is to reduce the consumption of soda pop. In its place, we encourage people to substitute healthier beverages -- water, milk -- and healthier food, including traditional foods,'' said Dr. Julien L. Naylor, a member of the health consortium.

The consortium is fighting an uphill battle, said Rowena Mandanas, a dentist with the Norton Sound Health Corp., which serves 15 western Alaska villages. Soda machines are in all the schools and it's normal for children to drink six to eight cans of day, she said.

''I've had to pull permanent teeth out of 6-year-olds because of tooth decay,'' Mandanas said.

Jennifer Bordon, a dentist with the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue, said it costs more than $100,000 a year to bring in a pediatric dentist. She's seen 3-year-olds with their two front teeth rotted out because they suck on bottles and sip on tippy cups filled with soda pop, bathing their teeth in sugar all day long, she said.

''It is a huge problem,'' Mandanas said.

In addition, schools in Alaska, like those in the Lower 48, are forging contracts with soft drink companies giving them exclusive rights to sell their products in the school buildings, said Michael Lengenfelder, president of the Alaska School Food Service Association.

PepsiCo Inc. has an exclusive pouring rights agreement with Homer High School, he said.

About 200 of the nation's 12,000 school districts have similar contracts, according to the National Soft Drink Association, which did not immediately return calls for comment.

The association's Web site says it supports new research conducted at the University of Michigan that ''confirms the soft drink industry position that soft drinks do not cause increased dental cavities in children or young adults.''

From mid-January through February, Coca Cola North America sent a plane to villages in the Bush to promote Sprite. Students were given T-shirts with images of Cleveland Cavalier Trajan Langdon, Anchorage's former high school basketball star.

''There are all sorts of gimmicks out there that the soda pop companies are trying,'' Lengenfelder said.

The Sprite plane stopped in Kotzebue, where students at the high school attended a soda pep rally, Borden said.

The schools are turning to the soda companies because they need to close the gap between what it costs to feed students and what the national school lunch program provides, Lengenfelder said. Student stores stock candy and soda pop because they sell well.

''Kids nowadays consume more soda pop than milk,'' Lengenfelder said.


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