Beverage Companies To Announce Voluntary Guidelines To Limit Sale of Soda in Schools
Beverage makers including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and others plan to announce on Wednesday a set of voluntary restrictions to limit sales of soda in schools as a way to "appease the growing chorus of critics who blame soft-drink sellers for rising obesity among U.S. children, while still protecting the industry's financial interests in marketing to young people," according to beverage industry officials, the Wall Street Journal reports (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 8/17).
The 20-member American Beverage Association board, which represents 85% of bottlers involved in school vending, voted unanimously to accept the guidelines, which will be announced at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle (La Corte, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 8/17).
The guidelines also will appear later in full-page ads in several national newspapers. They recommend that sales of carbonated soft drinks in elementary schools be halted. In middle schools during school hours, only diet soft drinks, sports drinks, low-calorie juice drinks, juice and water will be sold, while the sale of all drinks will be allowed after the school day. No restrictions will be placed in high schools, although the association is recommending that at least half of the vending slots be stocked with noncarbonated drinks such as juice and water.
The guidelines apply only to new contracts, meaning that it could take several years for the restrictions to take effect nationwide. Industry officials "concede the new restrictions are a somewhat watered-down version of a proposal that beverage companies have been debating all summer," the Journal reports.
The move is the first in a public relations campaign aimed to restore beverage manufacturers' image, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 8/17). An estimated nine million schoolchildren ages six to 19 nationwide are overweight, according to CDC, the AP/Sun reports.
Since 1980, the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled. Annual obesity-attributed medical expenses in the U.S. were estimated at $75 billion in 2003, according to NCSL. Individual school districts have responded around the country by eliminating soda and candy from vending machines, and 15 of 38 states that considered legislation dealing with school nutrition this year have enacted some form of legislation addressing the issue.
ABA President and CEO Susan Neely said, "Childhood obesity is a real problem," adding, "The individual companies have been doing several things to be part of the solution, and there was an agreement among all of our leadership that we needed to take another step and take it as an industry."
Don Knauss, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola North America, said, "These guidelines mark a commitment by the industry to provide schools with beverages that offer variety, nutrition and fewer calories" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 8/17).
However, Lucy Nolan, executive director of the advocacy group End Hunger Connecticut!, said that she wondered how widely the new policy will be observed, adding, "It's a good publicity ploy. But what's the incentive to follow it?" (Wall Street Journal, 8/17).