- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

Soft-drink makers are expected to decide soon whether to voluntarily ban the sale of soft drinks in elementary and middle schools during the school day.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) plans to adopt a policy that would press its members to stop selling carbonated soft drinks in elementary schools and middle schools and limit soft-drink sales in high schools.

The proposal is a shift from the beverage industry’s past opposition to state and county laws banning soft drinks from vending machines in schools.

The association still is working on the policy and considering other options, said Kathleen Dezio, spokeswoman for the Washington trade group.

Mrs. Dezio could not say exactly when members would vote to adopt a final version of the policy. Even when the policy is approved by ABA’s members, it would be voluntary for beverage companies. Mrs. Dezio said the association has no plans to enforce the policy.

The policy would ask members to stop soft-drink sales during the school day at middle and elementary schools, but soft-drink vending machines could be used before and after school, Mrs. Dezio said.

In high schools, the policy would limit carbonated drinks to 50 percent of a vending machine’s slots. The remaining slots could be used to sell bottled water, sports drinks, 100-percent fruit juices, iced tea and dairy drinks.

Coca-Cola Co. spokesman Dan Schafer said the company would give “serious consideration” to any industry proposal to restrict sales at school vending machines. He would not comment further.

“We would certainly be willing to support an industry proposal,” said Pepsico Inc. spokesman Dave DeCecco.

The proposed policy change was prompted by a growing number of requests from parents and health advocates to help control what younger schoolchildren eat and drink in schools, Mrs. Dezio said.

“All food and beverage companies have been looking at ways to support parents’ efforts to instill healthy eating habits in their children,” she said.

Public health advocates and trial lawyers have targeted makers of high-calorie soft drinks, arguing that easy accessibility to soda in schools has exacerbated the growing problem of childhood obesity.

About 16 percent of American children, ages 6 to 19, are overweight, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Youths ages 13 to 18 drank 21 ounces of soft drinks per day, adding roughly 250 calories to their daily diet, from 1999 to 2002, according to a recent report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington public health advocacy group that is well known for its scathing reports about soft-drink manufacturers and the fast-food industry.

Schools pay more U.S. school districts on average are spending 9.5 percent of their budgets on health care, equaling $895 per student, according to a recent report.

The report, which surveyed 876 school district officials on their health care costs, was released this week by the Association of School Business Officials International, a Reston trade association.

The report found that 91 percent of participants said their school districts would pay more for health insurance this year.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail her at mhiggins@washingtontimes.com.

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