One Small Step: The Soda Saga

In 2005, the American Beverage Association announced a new policy curbing sales of sodas in schools. They presented the move as a bold new plan to address the urgent problem of childhood obesity. Critics pooh-poohed them saying the actions do not go far enough.

The voluntary and non-enforceable policy was indeed complicated:
* Companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi will not sell regular soda, diet soda or sugary drinks in elementary schools.
* Regular soda will be sold in middle schools only after school hours and will be no more than half the vending machine selections at high schools.
* Bottles of sweet fizzy drinks will be replaced by healthier products like juice drinks, sports drinks and iced tea

Firmer guidelines were brokered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a collaboration between the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation and the American Heart Association.

Now there is a report card out. You can see the whole report here.

The American Beverage Association's report says that

* Non-diet soda accounted for 32% of the drinks for sale at schools during the 2006-07 school year, compared to 47% in 2004.
* Shipments of waters increased by 23% in the same period.
* The beverages shipped to schools last year contained about 41% fewer calories than they did in 2004.
* The average high school student purchased just 5.9 ounces (or less than half a can) of full calorie drinks per week as compared to 12.5 ounces per week in 2004.
* In this first year, 35% of the contracts between bottlers and school districts have achieved compliance with the guidelines.
* Compliance is higher in non-contract schools.

Good progress, I think. But the CSPI, while applauding the efforts of the industry, would like to see regulation rather than self-regulation.

I think a small step is the start of a big journey. While CSPI's aim to get more regulation in place is worthy, it is a longer drawn process. Meanwhile supporting and encouraging such voluntary initiatives - and indeed monitoring them regularly - is essential to making continual progress with denting the problem of childhood obesity.

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