Crackdown continues on sodas in schools

If a US initiative backed by former President Clinton succeeds, all US schools will be virtually free of high-calorie beverages by 2009.

The initiative, a joint action between the American Heart Association and the American Beverage Association (ABA), which represents major soft drink companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Cadbury Schweppes, establishes guidelines to restrict soft drinks throughout schools, and comes in the wake of legal pressure from groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

"The new beverage policy builds upon the school vending policy adopted by industry last summer by offering even more lower-calorie and nutritious or functional beverages throughout schools," said ABA president and CEO Susan Neely.

However, Neely did qualify her association's position by adding, "We believe soft drinks can be an appropriate beverage choice of young people who are following a balanced diet. Yet, we recognise this initiative is about the unique school environment and not the products. It's about giving students the skills to balance calories in with calories out."

Under the guidelines Pepsi, Coke and Cadbury have agreed to encourage schools to remove high-calorie items by the 2009-10 school year. "Reaching these goals is provided that schools and school districts are willing to amend existing school contracts," the ABA said. If successful, only sports drinks, some juices and milk will have more than 100 calories per serving by 2009.

CSPI dropped a lawsuit it had brought against the major soft drink manufacturers and backed the initiative, stating: "Though there is room for improvement — sugary 'sports' drinks still will be sold in schools, for instance — this voluntary agreement is certainly good enough that CSPI will drop its planned lawsuit against Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, and their bottlers."

Stephanie French, managing director of nutrition strategy consultants Harlequin Plus, noted the opportunities afforded healthy foods makers in the new climate. "The current debate over food quality in schools should be seen as presenting a new opportunity for vending rather than a threat: an opportunity to convert children to the concept of vending as a healthy snacking option, a concept which may then remain with them for life."

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