With President Clinton standing at its side, the American Beverage Association announced today that it has successfully reduced the calories consumed by kids, per day, at school, from their members' carbonated drinks. (Read the report here.) Or, rather, that kids may have consumed 88% fewer soda-related calories per day than they did just five years ago.
The removal of full-calorie soft drinks and other beverages not permitted under the guidelines, coupled with a major swing toward lower-calorie beverages, has resulted in an 88% percent decrease in total beverage calories shipped to schools between the first half of the 2004-05 school year and the first half of the 2009-10 school year.
First, this is good news, assuming that kids aren't consuming those calories elsewhere. Second, it tracks with the finding that the growth rate for childhood obesity is slowing -- a development that has given policymakers hope that the rates can actually be reversed. It is obviously in the ABA's interest to proactively and prophylactically respond to the national anti-obesity crusades -- they represent companies that have a product to sell -- be it water, fruit juices, sodas or energy drinks. How did the ABA measure this decline? They (supervised by the Clinton Foundation) asked an independent firm to survey 12 bottlers, representing about 90% of the school market.
A footnote in their report says: "To the extent possible, these bottlers also reported on schools and school districts without contracts." Look closely at the claim here: it is calories shipped to schools, not actual calories consumed by kids. There are caveats: the surveys did not reflect the number of caloried sodas shipped to athletic facilities, or for fundraising events, or in faculty lounges. (Schools themselves have resisted the banning of sports drink vending machines from their gyms and stadiums, and it's become an industry talking point that taking vending machines out of schools would deprive schools of an important source of revenue.) But to the extent that the surveys are valuable, they do show that the bottlers, usually independent from the beverage companies, are shipping fewer sodas and more water, relative to before, to middle, elementary and high schools.