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State Board takes first step toward lifting ban on diet soda in Colorado high schools

Despite opposition from a coalition of advocacy groups, the State Board of Education voted 4-3 to approve new rules Wednesday that would eliminate a seven-year ban on diet soda in high schools.

The split vote means the new rules won’t be officially adopted until the board votes on them a second time at its September meeting.

If approved, the rules will clear the way for diet soda to be sold in high school vending machines and school stores, though individual school districts could decide not to stock the drinks. Regular soda will continue to be banned because it exceeds maximum calorie limits under state and federal rules.

Opponents of the state rule changes, including a dozen health organizations, argued in written comments that Colorado was ahead of the curve in banning soda from schools in 2009 and now stands to roll back that progress, offering kids artificially sweetened beverages that tempt them away from healthier choices like water.

A dietician who opposed the change was the only person to comment in person at the board’s meeting in Grand Junction.

Education department officials said they recommended the change to align Colorado rules with new federal rules and reduce schools’ regulatory burden.

The board members in favor of the new rules—all Republicans—said it is the job of parents, not schools to determine whether kids make healthy choices. Some also said the original ban did nothing to reduce obesity.

Those opposed to the changes—all Democrats—worried that re-introducing diet soda sends a bad message to students and only benefits administrators and boosters who want to bring in extra revenue from soda sales.