To liberate itself from the heat its exclusive contracts with schools are beginning to generate, Coca-Cola is urging its bottlers to end exclusive sales deals with schools, a step in the right direction.
In addition Coca-Cola has promised to include juices, water, and milk on its vending machine menu for schools, and to replace its ads on those installations with images of young people burning calories.
These, too, are good moves, but along with other cynics, we believe it likely that Coke is taking them thanks to mounting pressure from parents, dentists, doctors, and others who have accused it of profiteering on kids to the detriment of their dental and physical health.
But Coca-Cola has not gone as far as it eventually must. Soft drinks, like smoking materials, have no place in schools, where lessons of health and well-being are expected to be absorbed.
Instead, under exclusive deals such as the one Toledo has with Coca-Cola, and with the help of school officials willing to trade children's health for money, soft drink and sweet snack firms have been hooking kids on junk food brand names in schools throughout the nation. In Toledo school milk sales are down 12 percent in high schools since its Coke contract began in 1999.
Some schools even use curricula that teach youngsters to count, using Tootsie Rolls and Cheerios as units. Environmental films by Exxon, which few trust to be balanced, are being used in environmental studies. What are they thinking?
One can't blame the firms for making profits and trying to attract new customers for life. Pure business is often amoral. But school officials were once assumed to make the well-being of students a priority and with the help of parents and public interest groups they will again. The hard facts of health are going for them.
For example, active girls are five times more likely to break bones if they drink colas, a Harvard School of Public Health study found. And children who glug down an extra soft drink a day are 60 percent more likely to be not just overweight but obese.
Of the values schools ought to impart, a key one is that the price of having something is sometimes too dear, and when the price involves honor and health, one is richer doing without than sacrificing either.