Under the new policy, which was decided upon in May and will be implemented in July, campus vendors will be blocked from selling all drinks with added sugar calories to the school’s 4,600 students. That means no Coca-Cola, no Dr. Pepper, and no fruit punch. Diet sodas and 100 percent juice drinks will still be tolerated, and students will be allowed to bring sugary drinks on campus if they buy them elsewhere.
“The average American consumes nearly three times the recommended amount of added sugar every day,” UCSF professor Laura Schmidt said in the school’s initial announcement. “The most common single source is sugar-sweetened beverages.”
While UCSF characterizes the policy as a voluntary “strategy” for its vendors, the vendors themselves don’t agree. Kenneth Guzman, who operates an on-campus restaurant, told Inside Higher Ed that he “didn’t really have a choice” about dumping soda.
“I felt like it was a little too rash, they are too harsh,” Guzman said. “We could’ve just educated our customers on how to choose healthier alternatives and not punish them, taking away what they love.”
Another food vendor on campus said he thought it was silly for the school to ban sugared drinks but not diet sodas.
“Artificial sugars are worse than sugar itself,” said Peasant Pie operator Ali Keshavarz. “If my kid had a choice between a sugar soda and a diet soda, I’d want them to have the sugar soda, I know that for a fact.”
The new policy makes UCSF the first university in the country to put such a broad limit on sugar sales, and comes just two years after the campus banned all tobacco products.
The decision may be slightly more justified at UCSF than at other colleges, as the school is focused solely on graduate education in health sciences.
The move is also premised on research the school itself has conducted. A 2012 article in Nature by three UCSF researchers argued the health consequences of added sugars were so severe they deserved to be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.
“Passive smoking and drink-driving fatalities provided strong arguments for tobacco and alcohol control,” the authors say in the article. “The long-term economic, health-care and human costs of metabolic syndrome place sugar overconsumption in the same category. The United States spends $65 billion in lost productivity and $150 billion on health-care resources annually for morbidities associated with metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic disorders related to sugar, the authors say, consume 75 percent of U.S. health spending.
Since “individually focused approaches” such as education aren’t working, the authors say, what is needed are “supply-side” restrictions such as higher taxes, age restrictions, and banning sales at schools.
Leeanne Jensen, the school’s wellness coordinator, told Inside Higher Ed the ban meant UCSF was “living our mission” by adopting its own advice on health. She also said the ban was focused on sugary drinks because their effect on health was particularly bad. High-sugar foods like cookies are more satiating than soda, she said, while the research on diet sodas is not as clear regarding whether they are unhealthy or not.