Soft drink industry issues new school policies

The American Beverage Assn. (ABA) last month made a pre-emptive strike against legislation limiting carbonated soft drinks in schools by adopting a policy aimed at providing lower-calorie and nutritious beverages and limiting the availability of soft drinks.

Under the new policy, the beverage industry will provide:
  • Elementary schools
  • with only water and 100 percent juice.

  • Middle schools
  • with only nutritious and/or lower calorie beverages, such as water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks, no-calorie soft drinks and low-calorie juice drinks. No full-calorie soft drinks or full-calorie juice drinks with five percent or less juice until after school.

  • High schools
  • with a variety of beverage choices, such as bottled water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks, and juice drinks. No more than 50 percent of the vending selections will be soft drinks.
The association’s board of directors — which represents 20 companies that comprise approximately 85 percent of school vending beverage sales by bottlers — unanimously adopted the policy. Association CEO Susan Neely announced it at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting Aug. 17.

“The [ABA] is asking beverage producers and school districts to implement the new policy as soon as possible,” the association said in a statement. “Where school beverage contracts already exist, the policy would be implemented when the contract expires or earlier if both parties agree. The success of the policy is dependent on voluntary implementation of it by individual beverage companies and by school officials. The policy will not supersede federal, state and local regulations already in place.”

“Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., and the responsibility for finding common-sense solutions is shared by everyone, including our industry,” Neely said. “We intend to be part of the solution by increasing the availability of lower-calorie and/or nutritious beverages in schools.

“Healthy and active kids can certainly enjoy soft drinks and juice drinks, but we understand that parents want more control over what their younger children consume in school and we want to support them with this policy,” Neely continued. The ABA plans to run print and broadcast advertising to educate the public about the new policy.

Reaction to the announcement was mixed. Several commentators saw it as a desperate defense in the face of increasing state regulations against vending sales. Others applauded the ABA effort. Still others noted that, while it meets current public opinion on beverages in schools, there are fewer calories in an 8-oz. serving of Coke (97 calories) than in the same size serving of Minute Maid orange juice (110).

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