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Beverage Industry Fighting Childhood Obesity by Helping Children Balance Calories

Cutting calories in schools reinforces skills for a lifetime; discriminatory taxes just raise revenue

WASHINGTON, May 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Childhood obesity is a serious issue that requires comprehensive and thoughtful solutions, but discriminatory taxes on soft drinks and other beverages are the wrong public policy for such a complex problem, said Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association.

As Washington leaders begin discussing ways to improve health care in America, the beverage industry believes they need to focus on solutions that work when it comes to reducing childhood obesity. Solutions like the successful national School Beverage Guidelines, which cut calories in schools and help reinforce with children the importance of balancing calories.

"Together as a society, we need to focus on the hard work of teaching our children how to balance calories consumed with calories burned and, by doing so, give them the skills to maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives," Neely said today. "A tax won't teach children these skills or have a lasting, meaningful impact on reducing childhood obesity."

In May 2006, the beverage industry developed national School Beverage Guidelines with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. The industry committed to changing the beverage mix in schools across America by removing full-calorie soft drinks, as well as capping calories and reducing portion sizes on other beverages and providing nutritious beverage options by the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.

The beverage companies not only committed to a tough policy, but they are delivering results and exceeding their goals.

At the start of the current school year, nearly 80 percent of America's schools under contract were in compliance with the School Beverage Guidelines - beating the agreed-upon goal of 75 percent after two years. And calories from beverages in schools have been cut by 58 percent during that time.

"America's beverage industry stepped up years ago to cut calories in schools because we recognize the important need to address childhood obesity in a meaningful way," Neely said. "Our school beverage guidelines contribute to children developing lifetime skills on balancing calories."

Another benefit of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation program is its focus on the calories burned side of the equation - the need for more physical education in schools. Beverage companies have long supported programs that promote physical activity in addition to the Alliance effort.

"Soft drinks are a fun, refreshing beverage meant to be enjoyed. You can be a healthy person and enjoy soft drinks, as millions of Americans, including parents and their children, prove every day," Neely said. "As we've seen in countless studies, the right formula is about calories in and calories out, not about added taxes."

Neely said the School Beverage Guidelines provide an encouraging model for effective public policy development to address a complex social challenge. Through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and its partners, the non-profit sector came together with the private sector to forge a solution with real, measurable impact for our children.

"The School Beverage Guidelines are the right policy that strikes the right balance," Neely said. "It's why the guidelines have drawn strong support from parents, educators, doctors and nutritionists."

Furthermore, the data simply doesn't support singling out products like soft drinks as a unique contributor to obesity. The data shows soft drinks have declined annually since 2000 (an overall 9.6 percent decline from 2000-2008, according to Beverage Digest), while childhood and adult obesity rates have risen throughout the decade.

Neely said the beverage industry applauds President Obama and the Congress for seeking effective ways to prevent childhood obesity and other diseases by improving the health care system in America. She encourages the leaders to keep seeking the best ideas, not the most convenient.

"If we're going to truly make an impact on childhood obesity, our leaders need to pursue more of these smart, common-sense solutions that work, rather than simply imposing regressive taxes and hoping for the best," Neely said. "Taxes distract from meaningful solutions. People view government as over-reaching when it uses the tax code to tell them how to eat or feed their children. Taxes are just the wrong public policy for a complex problem like childhood obesity."

The American Beverage Association is the trade association representing the broad spectrum of companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the United States.

SOURCE American Beverage Association
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