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Soft-Drink Makers Join Child Obesity Fight, Won't Sell Sugary Soda in Schools
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 3, 2006 -- Everybody complains about child obesityobesity -- and now the U.S. beverage industry is doing something about it.

In a stunning announcement, the major U.S. soft-drink makers -- Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, and other members of the American Beverage Association -- today promised to pull all sugared soft drinks from the nation's schools.

Beverages still sold in school will be restricted in portion size and calorie content. At least half of them will be low- or no-calorie beverages. The companies said the new policy would be fully in place within three years.

The industry action came after negotiations with the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. The two organizations convinced the industry to join them in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

"We are turning a huge ship around in the ocean before it hits an iceberg," former President Bill Clinton said at a news conference announcing the agreement. "This is a truly bold step forward. I hope we can do the same with other industries."

Environmental Change for Kids

Easy access to high-calorie soft drinks isn't the only cause of the U.S. epidemic of child obesity. But it's a major piece of the puzzle. Experts often tell WebMD that the only way to stop this epidemic is to change the environment in which children have too-easy access to too many calories. Today's announcement marks the first real change in this environment.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said at the news conference that Clinton's participation was a major factor in the industry action. But he praised the industry for seizing the initiative.

"Anyone who jumps into an unknown body of water gets there by being pushed, or to test it for everyone else," Huckabee said. "The soft drink industry won't wait to be pushed. It invites the rest of the food industry to join them. ... It may be a soft drink industry, but they made a very hard decision. ... They are among the first to say, 'We all have a role in decreasing childhood obesity.'"

American Heart Association president Robert H. Eckel, MD, a researcher at the University of Colorado Health Science Center, also praised the soft drink industry.

"This can really make a difference in the health of our kids," Eckel said. "The bottom line is kids need to consume fewer calories and burn more. When they consume sugared beverages, they consume hundreds of calories. This is just one step -- but we think it will make a tremendous impact on the calorie-in/calorie-out equation. These changes, along with increasing physical activity, providing better nutritionnutrition education, and establishing staff wellness programs, will help students establish healthy habits that will last a lifetime."

The top executives of Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association also spoke at the news conference. They expressed pride in their companies' products but stressed their concern that children must learn how integrate these beverages into a healthy lifestyle.

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