The Belgian Plan to Give Beer to Schoolchildren


In 2001, Belgian schools waged a new front in the war against childhood obesity. In an effort to keep kids away from sugary drinks, a plan emerged to swap soda and lemonade for a healthy alternative: beer.

In this unique scheme, the school would serve up a relatively weak brew called tafelbier, which contains 1.5-2.5% alcohol (a regular Budweiser has 5.5%). Kids would choose between lager and bitter. The brewsky came in 25 or 33 centiliter bottles—a bit less than the amount of beer in standard 12-oz cans.

The plan was the brainchild of a Belgian beer society, the Limburg Beer Friends. The club’s president, Rony Langenaeken, came up with the idea after hearing about a Belgian study linking childhood consumption of sugary drinks to obesity and breast cancer. At the time, Langenaeken told reporters, “It's good for their figure and very healthy as well.”

The program was aimed at kids from ages 3 to 15. While some adults expressed concern at the idea of 5-year-olds chugging cold ones at lunch, Langenaeken tried to assure skeptics that kids wouldn't actually get drunk off such small portions. “Beer is for the whole family," he said. “I used to drink it when I was just six years old.”

The Lagere Gemengde School in Hasselt decided to give the plan a test-run, and it certainly went over well with students. According to a 2001 story in the Akron Beacon Journal, 75% of the pupils surveyed preferred the new brews to other soft drinks.

Last Call

While kids were psyched about the suds, parents had a harder time swallowing the idea. “The word ‘alcohol’ was and is still a difficult notion,” said Langenaeken. Some adults were concerned the brews would affect children’s concentration in the classroom, making them rowdy or sleepy. Unfortunately for all the eight-year-old Belgian beer enthusiasts, no other schools agreed to test the program, and the idea never caught on.