The nation's largest beverage distributors have agreed to halt nearly all soda sales to public schools, according to a deal announced Wednesday by the William J. Clinton Foundation.
"This is a bold step forward in the struggle to help 35 million young people lead healthier lives," the former president said at a news conference. "This one policy can add years and years and years to the lives of a very large number of young people."
CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports how the plan will work starting in 2009:
"Soft drink companies have been marketing what we call liquid candy in high schools and some middle schools for many years now, and that's certainly contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said on CBS News' The Early Show. "It will be great to get rid of them."
"It shows that even the soda companies now recognize the connection of these high sugary drinks with childhood obesity and the fact that childhood obesity leads to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, and later in adulthood, high blood pressure, and a variety of other ailments," Connecticut state senate president Donald Williams, whose state already bans soda in schools, said.
Cadbury Schweppes PLC, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and the American Beverage Association have all signed onto the deal, Carson said, adding that the companies serve "the vast majority of schools." The American Beverage Association represents the majority of school vending bottlers.
"It's Coke and Pepsi and Cadbury who really stepped up to the plate and did something fairly controversial, and they deserve a lot of credit for this," John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, told CBS Radio News.
The deal follows a wave of regulation by school districts and state legislatures to cut back on student consumption of soda amid reports of rising childhood obesity rates. Soda has been a particular target of those fighting obesity because of its caloric content and popularity among children.
"It's a bold and sweeping step that industry and childhood obesity advocates have decided to take together," Carson said.
"This will not be a panacea for childhood obesity," Jacobson warned Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. "We've got a lot of other things we've got to deal with, because everything in our society encourages kids to eat more, and exercise less."
Nearly 35 million students nationwide will be affected by the deal, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation said in a news release. The group, a collaboration between Mr. Clinton's foundation and the American Heart Association, helped broker the deal.
"This is really the beginning of a major effort to modify childhood obesity at the level of the school systems," said Robert H. Eckel, president of the American Heart Association.
Under the agreement, high schools will still be able to purchase drinks such as diet and unsweetened teas, diet sodas, sports drinks, flavored water, seltzer and low-calorie sports drinks from distributors.
School sales of those kinds of drinks have been on the rise in recent years, while regular soda purchases by students have been falling, according to an ABA report released in December. But regular soda is still the most popular drink among students, accounting for 45 percent of beverages sold in schools in 2005, the report said.
"For too long, schools have been bought off by the junk food industry and by soda companies in exchange for a little bit of the money from vending machines or sometimes they buy scoreboards or that type of thing, but we have moved beyond the point of succumbing to that," Connecticut's Williams said.
The agreement applies to beverages sold for use on school grounds during the regular and extended school day, Carson said. Sales during after-school activities such as clubs, yearbook, band and choir practice will be affected by the new regulations. But sales at events such as school plays, band concerts and sporting events, where adults make up a significant portion of the audience, won't be affected, he said.
"I think the industry basically, in removing them from schools and keeping in their other beverages, has made a positive move, both for American children and also, the industry has served itself well," Sicher said.
How quickly the changes take hold will depend in part on individual school districts' willingness to alter existing contracts, the alliance said. The companies will work to implement the changes at 75 percent of the nation's public schools by the 2008-2009 school year, and at all public schools a year later.
Many school districts around the country have already begun to replace soda and candy in vending machines with healthier items, and dozens of states have considered legislation on school nutrition this year.
"It's time to get the soda and the junk food out, and even the industry now, the junk food industry, recognizes that times have changed and they have to change, too," said Williams.
The agreement follows an August decision by the American Beverage Association to adopt a policy limiting soft drinks in high schools to no more than 50 percent of the selections in vending machines. That recommendation was not binding.