Two days ago I posted about a new study indicating that banning sugary beverages from schools does not reduce overall sugary beverage consumption among the fifth and eighth graders surveyed. In the post and the comments section we discussed the legitimacy of the study (e.g., is self-reporting reliable among kids and teens?) and the notion that one ought to keep sodas out of schools in any event, rather than having schools implicitly endorse these products and make them available to kids.
Maybe it’s no surprise that within hours of posting I received an email from the American Beverage Assocation, the beverage industry lobbying group, asking that I present its side of the story. (The ABA’s own response to the study is here.) While I don’t feel any obligation to serve as a mouthpiece for the soda industry, I thought you might want to know about some of the information they shared.
The main point in the email to me is that several years ago the ABA entered into a voluntary alliance with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation and adopted new school beverage guidelines. Under these guidelines, full-calorie sodas are replaced with 100% juice, low-fat milk and water at elementary and middle schools, with sports drinks and diet drinks added to the mix at the high school level. Portion sizes range from 8 ounces in elementary to 10 ounces in middle school and 12 ounces in high schools. According to the ABA, these guidelines have led to an 88% reduction of beverage calories shipped to schools since 2004. (I still don’t have a firm handle on how many schools are actually participating in this program – in other words, I assume some schools out there are still selling soda, and the beverage industry is still supplying them. If I’m wrong, I’m sure another ABA email will come flying through the intertubes shortly.)
Here are my thoughts about the Clinton/ABA initiative: Am I glad that six year olds can no longer get a can of Coke from an elementary school vending machine? Of course. Is it still troubling to see (as I have seen myself) overweight and obese middle schoolers guzzling 100% juice drinks at school, when we suspect that consumption of empty (or virtually empty) liquid calories is one of the leading causes of obesity? Very troubling.
What’s really going on here, of course, is an industry desperate to keep its foothold in schools, both for the revenue generated by beverage sales and the invaluable opportunity to get its brand names in front of future consumers while they’re most impressionable and least able to think critically about marketing. (It should also be noted that the Clinton initiative apparently was entered into when the soda industry was under threat of litigation and possible governmental regulation.)
In its email to me, the ABA also questions the age of the data in the study (something I also mentioned in my post), arguing:
By looking at data from 2004 and 2007, this study ignores the dramatic changes in the school beverage landscape achieved by our industry over the last five years, making it effectively useless.
That criticism would make sense if the study had been looking simply at on-campus soda consumption, which has no doubt changed due to the Clinton intiative. But instead the study was trying to find out what happens after you ban soda and/or ban all sugary beverages, so I’m not sure how ABA’s improvements to the offerings at many schools impacts that finding. (Am I missing something?)
In the end, it’s sort of funny that the ABA is up in arms about a study that could be construed as arguing against school soda bans. Apparently the kids will just drink the stuff anyway. Sigh.
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