Jesse Mulligan: It's time to make schools water-only

OPINION: A few weeks ago, I had one of those moments when my brain just clicked - it was after we ran a story about kids' teeth.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Our kids are obese - their teeth pulled because of sugar damage - but we let them bring juice and fizzy drinks to school in their lunchboxes.

We're going to look back at this moment in history and realise we weren't even giving our kids a chance to be healthy.

A 600ml bottle of Coke has 16tsp of sugar in it - about three times the amount a child is allowed each day. Juice? Some of it is more sugary than soda.

Every year, 29,000 Kiwi kids have teeth pulled due to cavities and infection, with 7000 having to be put under general anaesthetic. That surgery costs $4000 each time, by the way - remember that next time someone says good food or education in schools is too expensive.

And if we're talking about the cost, how about the cost when later in life these children join the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with Type 2 diabetes, dealing with complications like going blind, having limbs amputated and dying in hospital beds from complications like heart disease?

They'll die of a sickness fizzy drink and juice companies sold to them. But those companies don't pay for their healthcare - we do.

How does this happen? Well, these companies have enough money and power to control the conversation. Their press releases talk about moderation, being active, a balanced diet. But it's meaningless, like telling a smoker to balance out the cigarettes by biking to work.

These companies tell you they're switching to artificial sugar - but those ingredients cause the same diseases, they increase your craving for junk food, and instead of rotting your teeth they just dissolve them.

The good news is we can do something, today.

Two years ago, our Government recommended schools move to a water-only policy, but they didn't make it compulsory. School principals are busy, so you can understand why not much has changed since then.

But now we're saying let's get it done - let's give our kids their best chance of a healthy life by flipping as many schools as we can to water-only. That means a complete ban on juice and fizzy drinks in school shops, lunchboxes and staff rooms.

Some have already made the switch - Yendarra school in Otara did it 10 years ago. I know of a few other water only schools too - Randwick Primary, Henderson High, Lincoln Heights, Oranga School.

This week, I want to add your school's name to that list.

It starts with an email to the school principal - if you don't know what to write, we've got some suggested text on our Facebook page, and information to make the change as easy as possible.

I would love to come back tomorrow night and announce that some schools have already made the switch. So here's my email address - - and if your school commits to being water-only, send me a note and tell me about it.

Maybe I'll hear from five schools, maybe I'll hear from 50. But I can't sit here and introduce another story on why New Zealanders are dying early, without doing my best to change this one thing that could make such a difference.

Let me know if you're up for it by using the hashtag #WATERONLYSCHOOLS.

Jesse Mulligan is a host of Three's The Project