U.S. beverage industry praised for helping in childhood obesity battle

The American Beverage Association (ABA) has approved a policy aimed at limiting the sale of soft drinks in school vending machines as the nation fights obesity.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) has approved a policy aimed at limiting the sale of soft drinks in school vending machines as the nation fights obesity.The announcement comes a month after the Center for Science in the Public Interest called for cigarette-style warnings on soft drinks to alert consumers that too much of the sugary beverages can make people fat and cause other health problems.

Susan Neely, the group's president and chief executive, says the industry acknowledges that childhood obesity is a serious problem in the U.S. and the responsibility for finding common-sense solutions is shared by everyone, including the beverage industry.

Soda pop accounts for more than a quarter of all drinks consumed in the U.S. and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), kids are among the heaviest consumers.

Carbonated drinks provide more added sugar in a typical 2-year-old diet than cookies, candies and ice cream combined.

Research has shown that 56 percent of 8-year-olds drink soda pop on a daily basis, and a third of teenage boys drink at least three cans a day.

Soft drinks are widely available everywhere from fast food restaurants to video stores, and in 60 percent of schools nationwide.

The beverage industry provides a wide variety of beverage products to schools, including bottled water, juice, juice drinks, teas, sports drinks, dairy-based beverages, and full- and no-calorie soft drinks.

Under the new policy, companies will only sell water and 100 percent juice in elementary school vending machines.

Middle schools will have slightly more lenient restrictions, allowing drinks such as water, juice, sports drinks, no-calorie soft drinks, and low-calorie juice drinks.

After school, drinks such as full-calorie soft drinks and full-calorie juice drinks with five percent or less juice can be made available.

At high schools, a wide variety of drinks will be offered, but no more than 50 percent of the vending selections will be soft drinks, the group said.

The industry aims to continue to develop innovative new beverage choices, including more low- and no-calorie products.

A USDA proposal in January, that required all foods sold in schools meet federal nutrition standards lifted the lid off the debate, with soft drink companies, concerned about negative publicity and loss of revenue, lobbying congress on the schools issue.

Despite the implied health effects of soft drinks, obesity, tooth decay, caffeine dependence, weakened bones, the scientific evidence is often unclear and contradictory.

The first substantial evidence linking soft drink consumption to childhood obesity was produced by a team of Harvard researchers.

They found that 12-year-olds who drank soft drinks regularly were more likely to be overweight than those who didn't.

David Ludwig and his colleagues concluded that drinking soda proved to be "an independent risk factor for obesity,".

The soft drink industry disputed the findings, but obesity experts regarded the Harvard findings as important and statistically valuable, but stressed the need for more research.

Data from 29 industrialized nations produced scant evidence of a link between sugar and tooth decay.

However the acids in soda pop are known to affect tooth enamel in ways that can lead to cavities.

There is also little conclusive science to demonstrate that regular doses of caffeine can have negative effects on brain development in children, and experts say there is no way for a parent to know how much caffeine their kids are getting.

The phosphoric acid in soda pop has also been a concern, and suspected of promoting the loss of calcium and rendering bones more prone to fracture.

Soft drink makers and bottlers, such as Cadbury Schweppes Plc, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., unanimously approved the policy.

As some states had already been looking at the school beverages issues, the announcement was welcomed and has elicited many positive comments from state senators and governors.

The American Beverage Association has asked companies and school districts to make changes as soon as possible.

Beverage companies do support health and wellness and education initiatives and appear to want to be more involved in these.

The announcement comes a month after the Center for Science in the Public Interest called for cigarette-style warnings on soft drinks to alert consumers that too much of the sugary beverages can make people fat and cause other health problems.

Also in the obesity battle is former President Bill Clinton, a once self confessed fat boy, who has formed a partnership between the William J. Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, in an initiative to tackle childhood obesity in the United States by 2010.

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