Soda Ban Sparks Debate over Benefits of Drinking Diet

Diet sodas are often considered “healthier” alternatives to their sugary counterparts, but are these low-calorie drinks really any better for you?

Several school districts in the area have changed nutrition policies to ban sugary drinks. As a result, regular sodas are being cleared out of vending machines and replaced with diet. Nearby Fairfax county is the latest of these districts.

Kettle Run has been keeping sugary sodas out of its machines for years already, and it also carries diet sodas in place of the supposedly less healthy options. However, is this really doing anything for students here? The debate rages on.

In an interview for the New York Times, psychologist Susie Swithers said diet sodas actually involve the same risks – heart disease, weight gain, strokes, and high blood pressure – as their sugary counterparts. Real and artificial sugars both tend to have the same effect on a person’s body – except, Swithers suggests, that diet sodas’ artificial sugars may teach the body to react incorrectly to sweetness. Usually, the body prepares itself to take in calories when it tastes something sweet. Diet sodas are calorie-free, which disrupts that pattern.

Diet and regular sodas may not have the same effect on one’s teeth, though. An online article from Eating Well magazine points out that bacteria need sugars to live. They can’t survive on the artificial sweeteners used in diet soda.

Health and physical education teacher Ellen Allen contributes her opinion on diet soda and suggests one way that schools might further improve student health through additional programs.

“Diet soda contains a lower number of calories thus if weight loss is the goal, this is one way to reduce the amount of calorie intake,” Allen said. “I also think that . . . cafeterias should provide healthy choices which would teach children how to eat healthier.”

Ty Thorpe, also a health and physical education teacher, agrees that a move toward diet sodas is a good idea.

“There could always be a lot more being done, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Diet soda has its supporters, then, but there are others with differing opinions. Sophomore Michael Jimenez and senior Kaylyn Peacher, for example, are skeptical.

“Diet is a lot worse for you, heart-wise,” Jimenez said. “Most of my friends just get water, anyway.”

Peacher expects that the program will be continued, but she also has doubts about its real effectiveness.

“I think they will [continue the program] because they think it’s a good idea, but in reality, diet soda is not any better for you.”