Bill Clinton takes the fizz out of schools

Bill Clinton has managed to persuade the giants of the U.S. beverage industry to agree to take an active part in the fight against childhood obesity.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes and the American Beverage Association, the country's top drinks distributors, have opted into the program and have promised to reduce the amount of calories and sizes of some of their most popular products sold in schools.

This effectively means that for 35 million U.S. public school children in future the number of calories in school beverages will be capped at 100 except for certain milks and juices; a can of regular Coca-Cola has 140 calories.

Under the agreement, sugary and calorific drinks will no longer be available in vending machines and cafeterias, or at after-school activities held on school grounds.

The restrictions will also apply to drinks schools buy from the distributors for sales at sporting events and fundraisers.

Clinton a self-confessed "fat kid" clinched the deal which was revealed at his New York-based foundation.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, is a joint initiative of the William J Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association (AHA) and is part of a campaign to promote a better diet and more active lifestyle for young people in the U.S.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who himself fought obesity has joined Clinton's campaign against child obesity, saying "the move is significant".

According to a recent federal government report, since 1980, obesity rates have tripled among adolescents aged 13 to 17 and doubled among younger children.

An estimated 16 percent of children aged 6 to 19 are now considered to be obese.

The former president, who has had two heart-related operations in recent years, has made child obesity one of his top public policy issues since leaving the White House in 2001.

He illustrated how effective the the program could be by saying an 8-year-old who cuts 45 calories a day from his diet would be 20 pounds (9 kg) lighter by the time he or she graduates from high school.

Clinton has lauded the beverage industry for taking a risk with the initiative, but one expert has said vending machines in schools are not a major source of revenue for carbonated soft-drink manufacturers and the effect will be minimal.

The move is expected to affect 87% of the school drinks market but many believe soft drinks are a visible and easy target and other factors are equally responsible for childhood obesity.

The beverage industry has agreed to apply the new limits to 75 percent of the nation's public and private schools before the start of the 2008-09 school year and apply it to all schools a year later.

In future elementary schools will sell only water, small servings of juices with no added sweeteners, and small servings of milk that are fat-free or low-fat.

Middle schools will have the same restrictions while allowing slightly larger portion sizes.

For high schools, at least half of available beverages must be water, zero-calorie and low-calorie drinks.

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