Clinton hails deal to halt fizzy drink sales in US schools

America’s largest beverage distributors are to halt nearly all sales of fizzy drinks to schools – a step that will remove them from vending machines and cafeterias across the country.

America’s largest beverage distributors are to halt nearly all sales of fizzy drinks to schools – a step that will remove them from vending machines and cafeterias across the country.

Under the agreement announced by the William J Clinton Foundation, the companies have also agreed to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools, said Jay Carson, a spokesman for the former US president. Only diet drinks would be sold to high schools.

“I don’t think anyone should underestimate the influence this agreement will have,” said Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, which has signed up to the deal.

“I think other people are going to want to follow this agreement because it just makes sense.”

Clinton told a New York news conference: “This is a bold step forward in the struggle to help 35 million young people lead healthier lives, This one policy can add years and years and years to the lives of a very large number of young people.”

The agreement should reach an estimated 87% of the school drink market, Neely said. Industry giants Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola and Pepsi – all ABA members- had agreed to the changes, she said.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a collaboration between Clinton’s foundation and the American Heart Association, helped to broker the deal.

The move follows a mounting wave of regulation by school boards and legislators alarmed by reports of rising childhood obesity. Fizzy drinks have been a particular target of those fighting obesity because of their calorie content and popularity among children.

Still, the deal imposes stricter drink regulations than are currently in place for nearly 35 million state school pupils.

“This is really the beginning of a major effort to modify childhood obesity at the level of the school systems,” said Robert Eckel, president of the Heart Association, adding that the alliance would also be working to put healthier foods in schools.

John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, which compiles extensive data on the industry, said the agreement would have no impact on the €51bn beverage industry’s bottom line.

“The sale of sugar-carbonated sodas in schools is a tiny, tiny part of their overall volume,” said Sicher.

He applauded the move, however, saying: “The impact is more in terms of responsibility and accountability to the consumer.”

Under the agreement, high schools will still be able to sell low-calorie drinks that contain less than 10 calories per serving, as well as drinks that are considered nutritious, such as juice, sports drinks and low-fat milk. The “nutritious” drinks will be limited to 12oz servings, Neely said.

Elementary schools will sell 8oz servings of the “nutritious” drinks, and middle school kids will get 10oz-size drinks.

School sales of healthier drinks have been on the rise in recent years, while non-diet soda purchases by students have been falling, according to an ABA report released in December. But regular soda, averaging 150 calories per can, is still the most popular drink among students, accounting for 45% of drinks sold in US schools in 2005, according to the report.

How quickly the changes take hold will depend in part on individual school districts’ willingness to alter existing contracts, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation said in a release. The companies will work to implement the changes at 75% of America’s schools before the 2008-2009 school year, and at all schools a year later, the alliance said.

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