Beverage makers voluntarily cut soda sales to schools

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Even former President Bill Clinton, not always the model of healthy eating, admitted he was surprised by the results of a three-year program to remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools. At a press conference in New York City on Monday, Clinton announced that since 2006, 88% fewer beverage calories were shipped to U.S. elementary, middle and high schools, representing a 95% drop in full-calorie drinks delivered to schools.

Sales of other types of drinks also declined: shipments of bottled tea dropped 77%, sports drinks fell 67%, diet soda declined 47%, and even bottled water and flavored or fortified waters were down 15%.

The findings came from an independent review of 7,800 schools across the U.S., commissioned by the the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation that was formed in 2006 to remove high-sugar, full-calorie soft drinks from schools.

In addition, the Wall Street Journal notes:

While state and local restrictions on sales of sweetened beverages in schools are responsible for some of the decline, voluntary guidelines adopted by the beverage companies and their bottlers in May 2006 played a significant role, Susan Neely, the [American Beverage Association]’s president and chief executive, said in an interview. “We’ve successfully change the beverage landscape in a very meaningful way,” she said.

Instead of full-calorie soft drinks, the Alliance managed to convince major soft drink-makers such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group to supply schools with water, 100% fruit juices, milk and low-calorie drinks. The manufacturers also voluntarily agreed to redesign and rebottle their products into smaller portion sizes to help children consume fewer calories and lower their risk of obesity. “Even for a person as optimistic as I am, I have to admit that I am stunned by the results,” Clinton said.

It’s not possible to say whether or how much children benefited from the swapped out soft-drinks over the past three years in terms of diet or weight loss. But many childhood obesity experts say a “toxic environment” that encourages poor eating habits and sedentary behavior is largely to blame for the size of American children — chief among the culprits, they say, is snack food and sugary beverages in schools. Clinton told reporters he is working with the snack-food industry to make similar changes in the kinds of products they stock in school vending machines. —By Alice Park