Sodas Skip Schools

Soft-Drink Makers Join Child Obesity Fight, Won't Sell Sugary Soda in Schools

From the WebMD Archives

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.

"If we can help our children learn the right balance between consuming calories and burning calories, we will give them the tools to lead healthy lives," Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, said at the news conference. "The school beverage policy contributes to giving our children these skills, particularly when coupled with greater physical education and physical activity. Children need to learn both parts of the equation in order to fully succeed in a healthy life."

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been highly critical of the soft drink industry, announced plans to drop a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, and their bottlers following today's announcement.

New Beverage Guidelines for Schools

Here's the contract the beverage industry has agreed to make with school districts. Milk, as defined in the contract, includes "nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives" such as soy milk. All 100% juices must contain the minimum daily requirement of at least three vitamins or minerals. For example, orange juice would qualify. Apple juice might not.

Elementary schools will allow only:

  • Bottled water
  • Up to 8-ounce servings of milk and 100% juice
  • Low-fat and nonfat regular and flavored milk with up to 150 calories per 8 ounces
  • 100% juice with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories per 8 ounces


Middle schools will allow the same things as elementary schools, but juice and milk may be sold in 10-ounce servings. If middle school and high school students share the same campus or the same buildings, the high-school standards will apply.

High schools will allow only:

  • Bottled water
  • No- or low-calorie beverages with up to 10 calories per 8 ounces
  • Up to 12-ounce servings of milk, 100% juice, light juice, and sports drinks
  • Low-fat and nonfat regular and flavored milk with up to 150 calories per 8 ounces
  • 100% juice with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories per 8 ounces
  • Light juices and sports drinks with no more than 66 calories per 8 ounces

At least 50% of beverages must be water and no- or low-calorie options.

"This mix of beverages will be implemented in all schools by the 2009-2010 school year," Neely said.

Will the Fast-Food Industry Follow?

Kids, of course, don't get all their calories at school.

"We have to get moms and dads involved," Huckabee said. "Good habits are more caught than taught. If parents don't set the right kind of table, and the right kind of activity schedule, we won't solve this problem."

And sodas, of course, aren't kids' only high-calorie food.

Only yesterday, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a joint report calling for the food industry to make huge changes in how it sells high-calorie foods to kids.

"Responsible, industry-generated action and effective self-regulation are critical to addressing the national problem of childhood obesityobesity," FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said in a news release. "The FTC plans to monitor industry efforts closely, and we expect to see real improvements."

The agencies' 138-page report recommended that food industries should:

  • Make products lower in calories, more nutritious, more appealing to children, and more convenient to prepare and eat.
  • Make smaller portions, single-serving packages, and offer other packaging cues to help consumers reduce serving sizes.
  • Change labels to clearly identify lower-calorie, nutritious foods without being misleading.
  • Change the way foods are marketed to children. For example, foods marketed to kids should meet minimum nutritional standards.
  • Educate consumers about nutritionnutrition and fitness with simple and effective messages.
  • Improve the "overall nutritional profile" of food products marketed and sold in schools.


And the FTC and HHS aren't letting media companies off the hook. They recommended that media and entertainment companies:

  • Develop and disseminate simple, positive, and consistently repeated educational messages about nutrition and fitness
  • Change the way children's TV and movie characters are used to market foods, so that they promote nutritious, lower-calorie products

And the agencies suggested that the food industry police itself, including:

  • Considering having an independent nonprofit or public-health organization develop a seal or logo program to identify more nutritious, lower-calorie foods
  • Considering the appropriateness of paid product-placement of foods in movies, video games, and web sites
  • Considering what measures should be taken to punish violations of these guidelines

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 03, 2006


SOURCES: Press conference participants: Former President Bill Clinton; Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Robert H. Eckel, MD, professor, University of Colorado Health Science Center and president, American Heart Association; Donald R. Knauss, president, Coca-Cola North America; Dawn Hudson, president and CEO, Pepsi-Cola North America; Gil Cassagne, president and CEO, Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages; and Susan K. Neely, President and CEO, American Beverage Association. News releases, William J. Clinton Foundation; American Beverage Association; American Cancer Society; Federal Trade Commission. Perspectives on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity, April 2006, FTC/HHS web site. News release, Center for Science in the Public Interest.
© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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