Beverage report shows schools cutting calories

by Eric Schroeder
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NEW YORK — The determined action of beverage companies and the industry at large to change the landscape of what children consume at schools throughout the United States is moving ahead in the form of fewer beverage calories, according to a new report prepared by the American Beverage Association in conjunction with Keybridge Research L.L.C., an independent policy research firm.

The report, "School Beverage Guidelines Progress Report 2007-2008," marks the second annual assessment of the impact and status of implementation of the national School Beverage Guidelines.

According to the report, beverage calories shipped to schools have decreased 58% since 2004, which was the last time an analysis was done prior to the creation of the School Beverage Guidelines in 2006. The guidelines were established through work by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association), the A.B.A. and representatives of The Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo, Inc. The groups are currently in year two of a three-year implementation period of the guidelines.

The study found 79% of schools under contract with bottlers are in compliance with the national School Beverage Guidelines, surpassing the 75% benchmark set by the groups for the 2008-09 school year. Elementary schools are leading the charge, with 92% in compliance, while high schools have the most room for improvement, with 75% in compliance. Eighty-two per cent of middle schools are in compliance.

The shift in the beverage landscape is dramatic, according to the progress report’s findings. The sharpest decline in total volume shipped to all schools between 2004 and the 2007-08 school year occurred in juice drinks, which fell 72%. Full-calorie carbonated soft drinks experienced the second-largest decline, at 65%, followed by all beverages at 43%; teas, 43; 100% juices, 38%; diet carbonated soft drinks, 34%; and regulator sports drinks, 20%. The only beverage category showing growth during the period was waters, which rose 18%.

"We’re cutting calories in schools, plain and simple," said Susan K. Neely, president and chief executive officer of the A.B.A. "This industry made a bold commitment two years ago to change the beverage mix in schools, and we are delivering. We recognize that schools are unique places and we’re doing our part to help students understand the importance of balancing calories burned with calories consumed."

The science-based beverage guidelines call for the beverage industry to provide lower-calorie and smaller-portion options in schools, including the removal of full-calorie soft drinks, all by the 2009-10 school year. The full-calorie drinks are being replaced by 100% juice, low-fat milk and bottled water in elementary and middle schools, and by diet sodas, calorie-capped sports drinks and enhanced waters, and low-calorie teas in high schools.

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