The Beverage Lobby Responds to My Post on School Soda Bans

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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  1. says

    Its amazing to me that the ABA can paint this “alliance” as something positive. I see it as another example of the fox running the henhouse.

    Big soda hasn’t lost a penny of sales in schools due to “soda bans” because, thanks to that “voluntary partnership” with the Clinton gang, they were able to put Gatorade and Vitamin Water in instead. Less “calories” but still the same bottled crap that doesn’t do anyone any good.
    Also consider the push for juice. As pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig explains so eloquently in his presentation Sugar: The Bitter Truth, (, juice is yet another fructose delivery source that can cause non alcoholic liver diseases. The book Squeezed is another eye opener on the health hazards and big buisness ( Coke & Pepsi) of juice.

    This ABA/soda scam is another great example of how capitalism doesn’t work when it comes to food and health. Why, oh why, do we still believe that money is more important than the health of our kids and the future of our planet?

  2. michelle says

    I think there’s a point when parents need to take responsibility for their children. Kids won’t have money to buy soda and garbage from vending machines unless their parents give it to them. I also don’t believe 100% juice is empty calories – 30% juice on the other hand is a different story.

  3. says

    I have mixed feelings about 100% juice. When we first got soda, Gatorade, and other junky beverages out of our schools in 2003-04, we (the district’s student nutrition committee) allowed plain water, milk and 100% fruit juice only. Our reasoning was, we were taking away virtually every drink the kids loved – sodas, sweet tea, lemonade, Gatorade, fake juice – and we didn’t think it was realistic to expect them to go from having access to a zillion sweet drink choices to having not one single sweet drink choice, overnight.

    Yes, in a perfect world, kids would not crave sweet drinks, and parents would not ever allow their kids to develop a taste for them. But we were dealing with a student population which had had access to soda etc. right there at school since the first day of 6th grade. These kids were definitely hooked on sugar water, and to think that they would happily go cold turkey from one day to the next would have been the height of wishful thinking.

    And yes, I get it that we don’t let kids make decisions about the most important things in life; on the other hand, we didn’t have a whole lot of support from school admins, or even from parents (who relied on the sale of soda and junk at school events to fund enrichment programs) at that time to eliminate junk from schools. Had the kids staged a full-fledged revolt against the new food and beverage rules, there was a good chance that our school food reform efforts would have been derailed early on. We needed to offer the kids SOMETHING they could drink in lieu of soda, and 100% fruit juice seemed like the least harmful choice. Especially when we discovered what at that time was a new line of products – sparkling fruit juice – which was 100% fruit juice carbonated to resemble the mouth feel of soda, but without the caffeine or the additives of soda. These drinks seemed like a good compromise at the time, given that we were dealing with a student population who had believed since 6th grade that getting soda at school was their “right.”

    Now, however, there are no longer any kids in our schools who ever had access to soda or junky drinks at school; the last of those kids graduated a year or two ago. Although I am no longer involved with my school district’s student nutrition committee, I think it is time for them to consider eliminating the sale of fruit juice. Juice has already been removed from the school breakfast program, replaced by fresh fruit. A serving of fruit juice is 4oz.; the bottles of fruit juice in the vending machines are more like 12oz. Do kids really need to drink 3 servings of apple juice daily, given that apple juice is literally nothing more than sugar and water?

  4. says

    Juice is loads worse than you might originally think. OJ has been completely been co-opted by Coke & Pepsi- read Squeezed for the details.

    Juice is missing a key ingredient: fiber. Dr Lustig’s presentation is worth the 45 minutes to sit and absorb this information.

    Drink water, eat fruit. No juice.
    This is also based on my professional experience as a dentist. Pediatricians mistakenly encourage juice, there is NO benefit for toddlers and small children to drink juice. It sets them up with a sweet tooth, it rots their teeth. I’ve seen it first hand, it ain’t a pretty sight.
    Your homework, readers is Squeezed and Dr Lustig’s presentation.

  5. Melissa House says

    Sadly is all of our schools in Pasadena are laced with Powerades, sigh…When I demonstrated how much sugar is in the drinks to the children with examples of Powerade, coke, strawberry milk, apple, banana, and an orange, they were astonished. We have to show the kids what is in their drinks and explain to them how we digest the fructose. Before you know it, the kids asked me to help them read their food labels as well. It starts with teaching……

  6. Kate says

    To Susan Rubin…I couldn’t make it through Lustig’s presentation…maybe I’ll try another day.

    Is his point that fiber negates potentially harmful effects of fructose?
    It is still much better to eat a grape than a raisin, in terms of satiety value and calorie density. The fiber is still there, but one choice will raise blood sugar more quickly than the other.

    If one is going to drink juice(or any calorie containing beverage)…. a four ounce serving is a much better option than a much larger serving……the amount of any sort of sugar consumed in one sitting is always important as to how it will affect your body.

    I rarely drink any sort of calorie containing beverages myself, but someone brought up four ounce servings and it made me think about the old fashioned juice glasses…which were probably about 4 ounces in size. I find it interesting that previous generations had a more intuitive grasp on ideas of portion control…even though they didn’t always know the science behind it.

  7. says

    Sadly, the focus of most food marketers is to introduce their products to children when they’re young so that their developing taste preferences get “hooked” on the sugary, salty, greasy flavors.


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