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Leading soft drink companies consider voluntary restrictions on sales in schools.

Soft-drink companies are considering voluntary restrictions on the sale of carbonated soft drinks in schools. The board of the American Beverage Association, an industry trade group, is discussing a proposal that would halt sales of carbonated soft drinks in elementary schools and limit such sales at middle schools to afterschool hours. In addition, at least half of vending-machine slots in high schools would be allocated to noncarbonated beverages such as juices and water.

Voluntary changes by the soft-drink industry could extend restrictions imposed by a number of states and school districts throughout the U.S. Any new policy would apply to only new contracts, not existing ones. The potential move by the soft-drink industry appears aimed at countering criticism that it is contributing to rising obesity rates among children.

While the new rules might please some health advocates, others argue that soft drinks should be banned entirely from schools, including high schools. Health advocates have argued that it is irresponsible to sell sugary drinks to children at school, when there is a childhood obesity epidemic.

The practical impact of the rules, if they take effect, would not be huge. The industry already has a general practice of not selling carbonated soft drinks to students in elementary schools, although the new proposal would make it more official and consistent. And in middle and high schools, soft drink companies already are selling waters, juices and sports drinks alongside sodas because such drinks increasingly are popular with young consumers. Also, school sales don't represent significant revenue for beverage companies. For Coke, schools make up less than one percent of sales in North America. However, the change would be important from a symbolic standpoint. The industry wants to show parents that it is taking the obesity issue seriously.

In the past, Coke and other beverage companies have resisted restrictions because schools are a good place to market to young consumers and develop long-term brand loyalty. Also, companies do not want bans that seem to acknowledge that soft drinks are bad for kids or that soft drinks lead to obesity.

The proposal before the ABA comes nearly one year after Canada's beverage industry instituted a ban on carbonated soft drinks in elementary and middle schools.
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Comment:Leading soft drink companies consider voluntary restrictions on sales in schools.
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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