NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. beverage industry has largely stopped delivering sugary drinks to schools and has replaced them with lower-calorie options, the head of the industry's trade association said Monday.
The association released a report showing a a 95 percent decline in sales of full-calorie soft drinks to schools between fall 2004 and fall 2009.
"It's a brand new day in America's schools when it comes to beverages," said Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and other major soft drink companies.
She attributed the decline to voluntary guidelines adopted by the industry in 2006 under an agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of former President Bill Clinton's foundation and the American Heart Association.
Clinton, who hosted a news conference at his Harlem office, said he was "stunned" by the results.
"There's been a dramatic shift toward lower-calorie and more nutritious beverages in schools, including waters, 100 percent juices and portion-controlled sports drinks," Clinton said.
The guidelines that have been implemented over the last three years permit the sale of water, unsweetened juice and low-fat and nonfat milk, flavored and unflavored, in elementary and middle schools. Diet sodas and sports drinks can be sold in high schools.
But the report compiled by Keybridge Research LLC found that shipments of all beverages to schools fell 72 percent between 2004 and 2009.
Sales of bottled water including flavored and vitamin-fortified water declined the least, just 15 percent.
Neely said sales to schools represent less that 1 percent of the beverage industry's total sales.
The report on beverage consumption comes as first lady Michelle Obama is leading a campaign to combat childhood obesity and as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling for a state tax on sugary soft drinks.
Clinton said it would be "dumb" for him to take a position on a soda tax. Neely said the industry opposes such a tax.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one in three school-age children are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has been linked to diabetes and other health problems.
Terry O'Toole, a health scientist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC's own numbers show a decline in soda consumption in high schools.
"Efforts to improve the school nutrition environment are working," he said.
But Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said change isn't happening fast enough.
Popkin said his research has found that overall consumption of sodas and sweetened fruit drinks by children aged 2 to 18 declined only slightly since the mid-1990s.
"Show me the changes," he said.