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16 March 2010

US soft drinks firms say sugary sodas cut in schools

The US soft drinks industry says it has dramatically cut the number of high-calorie soft drinks sold in US schools as part of a drive to tackle obesity.

The American Beverage Association said shipments of full-calorie drinks to schools were down 95%.

Nearly one in three children and teenagers in the US are overweight or obese and health experts say sugary drinks are part of the problem.

Several US states and cities are considering taxing soft drinks.

The reduction in sugary soft drinks in schools formed part of a deal between the major companies and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation.

Under the voluntary guidelines, in place since 2006, full-calorie soft drinks were removed from school canteens and vending machines. Lighter drinks, including low-fat milk, diet sodas, juices, flavoured waters and teas were promoted in their place.

"There's been a dramatic shift toward lower calorie and more nutritious beverages in schools, it could lay the foundation for broader changes in our society," former US President Bill Clinton told a news conference on Monday.

Soda tax

Independent consulting firm Keybridge Research looked at what changes the guidelines had brought about and found that:

the total beverage calories shipped to schools between the first half of the 2004-05 school year and the first half of the 2009-10 school year has decreased by 88%
there had been a dramatic shift toward lower-calorie and higher nutrient beverages in schools, including waters, 100% juices, and portion-controlled sports drinks
shipment volumes of full-calorie drinks were 95% lower in the first half of the 2009-10 school year compared with the first half of the 2004-05 school year.
The soft drinks industry has been a main target of critics who say the sugary beverages they sell are a key factor in the levels of childhood obesity in the US.

The state of California and the city of Philadelphia have introduced legislation to tax soft drinks, while both the New York Governor David Paterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are also pushing for such a tax.

"In these tough economic times, easy fixes to our problems are hard to come by," said Mr Bloomberg at the weekend. "But the soda tax is a fix that just makes sense, it would cut rising health costs."

Susan Neely of the American Beverage Association, which includes major firms like Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, said such a tax would not solve "a complex problem like obesity".

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