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Soft-Drink Makers to Cut School Sales

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Lunchtime is losing some of its fizz for many schoolchildren. Today, the beverage industry announced that it will restrict the sale of some soft drinks, but only at elementary and middle schools, not high schools. Here's NPR's Libby Lewis.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

The announcement came at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. States are taking a bigger role in regulating school nutrition amid rising concerns over child obesity. Susan Neely is president of the American Beverage Association. She says the new guidelines are the first industrywide sign that soft-drink makers recognize their role in children's nutrition.

Ms. SUSAN NEELY (President, American Beverage Association): Childhood obesity is a complex problem. A lot of people need to step up to the plate to try to help resolve it. And this policy is the industry's effort to do more and to take another step, to be constructive and do our part to help solve the problem.

LEWIS: Under the guidelines, the beverage industry would encourage bottlers to eventually end all sales of carbonated soft drinks to elementary schools. They would also restrict sales of full-calorie soft drinks and full-calorie fruit drinks to middle schools during the school day. After school, all drinks could still be sold.

The voluntary guidelines do not ban any sodas from high schools, but recommend that half the slots in vending machines be reserved for juice and water drinks. Neely said it made sense to offer fewer restrictions for high schoolers.

Ms. NEELY: Parents have said that for older kids, high school kids, that they should have a choice. And the choice is bottled water, it's sports drinks, it's juice, it's juice drinks, it's dairy-based beverages and soft drinks.

LEWIS: Neely said the industry would work to try to persuade local bottlers and schools to comply with the policy.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a nutrition advocacy group that has called for tougher regulation of the soft-drink industry. It praised the move, to a degree. Margaret Wootan is director of nutrition policy for the center.

Ms. MARGO WOOTAN (Director of Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest): It's terrific that the beverage industry is going to get sugary drinks like soda pop and sports drinks and juice drinks out of elementary schools. But they're doing virtually nothing to address high school students' diets, which is where the biggest problem is.

LEWIS: Many schools sell snacks and soft drinks to generate revenue, according to the Government Accountability Office. Psychologist Susan Linn, who wrote a book on marketing to children, called the guidelines a publicity stunt by an industry that lobbies against any state bill to get sodas out of schools.

Ms. SUSAN LINN (Psychologist; Author): School carries a special weight with kids. Even kids who don't like school know that school's supposed to be good for them and school recommendations are supposed to be good for them. So, you know, if a school is filled with Coke machines or Pepsi machines, the message to the kids is, `We approve of this. This is fine. You know, this is good for you.'

LEWIS: The industry says it will work with schools and bottlers to implement the guidelines whenever new contracts come up or whenever schools want to take up the issue. Libby Lewis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Libby Lewis
Libby Lewis is an award-winning reporter on the National Desk whose pieces on issues of law, society, criminal justice, the military and social policy can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Day to Day, Weekend Edition Saturday, and other NPR shows.
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