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Drink Industry: Cut Soda At School

The American Beverage Association is recommending limiting the availability of soft drinks in schools across the country, a move that comes amid increased pressure to curb the epidemic of childhood obesity.

ABA President and CEO Susan Neely said parents should have the assurance that their children aren't drinking an excessive amount of sweetened drinks at school. The trade group represents companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages.

"Childhood obesity is a real problem," Neely told The Associated Press. "The individual companies have been doing several things to be part of the solution and there was an agreement among all of our leadership that we needed to take another step and take it as an industry."

She was scheduled to formally announce the organization's new policy recommendation Wednesday at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle.

The association's board voted unanimously Tuesday to work with school districts to ensure that vending machines stock only bottled water and 100 percent juice in primary schools, although most of these schools are already soda-free.

The group is also suggesting that middle school students — who are typically ages 12 to 14 — have access to additional drinks, like sports drinks, no-calorie soft drinks and low-calorie juice drinks. Middle schools could have additional machines with soft drinks and full-calorie juice drinks available for organizations that may hold meetings at the school, but the beverages couldn't be available during school hours.

High school students — who are teenagers — would have access to all types of drinks, including soda, but no more than 50 percent of the vending machine selections would be soft drinks.

The association's recommendation isn't binding, but Neely said the 20-member board represents 85 percent of the bottlers involved in school vending.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi said they supported the move.

"These guidelines mark a commitment by the industry to provide schools with beverages that offer variety, nutrition and fewer calories, and are very similar to the Coca-Cola System's current guidelines in the U.S.," said Don Knauss, President and COO, Coca-Cola North America.

Dawn Hudson, president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America, added in a statement that "parents tell us they'd like help in determining what products are sold in schools, and we're listening."

An estimated 9 million schoolchildren ages 6-19 nationwide are overweight, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, the number of overweight children has doubled, and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled, according to the CDC.

By Rachel La Corte