An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Drink Makers Pledge to Cut Soft-Drink Sales in Schools

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Kids will soon have to go without their sugary soft drinks in schools. The beverage industry has agreed to limit the selection, calories and portion sizes of the drinks in school vending machines. The voluntary deal was brokered by former president Bill Clinton and the American Heart Association as a way to combat childhood obesity.

NPR's Robert Smith reports from New York.

ROBERT SMITH: President Clinton was asked today if he thought that this agreement was the beginning of the end of the super-sized culture in America.

BILL CLINTON: Of course I do since I used to be part of it.

SMITH: During his presidency Clinton would've made an unlikely poster boy for healthy eating. His taste for McDonalds, pizza and doughnuts was legendary. But now after his heart surgery and losing dozens of pounds, Clinton is making childhood obesity one of his foundation's major initiatives. Today's deal to get sugary sodas out of the schools, he says, can make a major impact on a kid's waistline.

CLINTON: If an 8-year-old child consumes 45 fewer calories a day every day for a decade, when the child graduates from high school, he or she will weigh 20 pounds less. This one policy can add years and years and years to the lives of very large numbers of young people.

SMITH: I brought into the studio here a number of the beverages that you will no longer see in high schools. We have here regular Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper. Oh, here's a can of Mountain Dew with 170 calories. You won't be seeing this in school vending machines anymore.

Sports drinks will still be around, but they'll be much smaller. Here is a 20- ounce bottle of Gatorade, red flavor, 130 calories. Under the deal, beverage companies will only be able to sell bottles about half the size. And here is a New York favorite, Snapple, 200 calories. This kind of drink will be capped at 100 calories. Diet sodas and other low-calorie drinks are fine, but in elementary schools, kids will be limited to water, juice and milk in just 8- ounce sizes.

For the beverage distributors, this deal is a sign that they see the writing on the wall. A growing number of school districts and even states are considering limiting or banning soft drinks in the schools. The president of Coca-Cola North America, Donald Knauss, and the president of Pepsi-Cola, Dawn Hudson, stood together after Clinton's announcement and said that they weren't pressured to do this.

DAWN HUDSON: People are more concerned than ever before about obesity and how to live healthier, active lives. They're asking us for solutions. We've been creating those solutions for years because we see these trends, and we want to react to them as opportunities.

DONALD KNAUSS: Yeah, I would say it the same way. It really is about opportunity. In fact, if you look at our portfolio of products, what's been growing is the waters, it's the juices, it's low-calorie or diet beverages.

SMITH: The new drink restrictions are expected to cover about 75 percent of the nation's schools by 2008. How effective it will be in making a dent in obesity is anyone's guess. Freddie Perez and Dyogeness Naterra(sp) are 10th graders at a high school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and they want to keep drinking their two or three Cokes a day.

FREDDIE PEREZ: You know, if we want to drink Coke then give us the Coke. That's how you're going to make your money out here. You know, we want to drink Pepsi, give us the Pepsi, even though it's going to get us fat.

DYOGENESS NATERRA: I don't know what to say. If I want a big gut then I want a big gut.

PEREZ: I guess I'll leave to go get it. If I can't leave, I'll just stay in school and deal with it.

SMITH: Or just wait, they say, until after school. President Clinton says that his new health kick won't be stopping at soft drinks. The next target? School lunch ladies and the saturated fats on the cafeteria line.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.