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US beverage industry cuts calories for school kids

By Staff
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NEW YORK, May 4 (Reuters) The US beverage industry has agreed to fight child obesity by cutting calories and shrinking the serving sizes of drinks sold at schools in a deal brokered by self-described former ''fat kid'' Bill Clinton.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes and the American Beverage Association volunteered for the program that will ban some of their best-selling products from a market of 35 million US public school children.

Under the plan unveiled yesterday at Clinton's New York-based foundation, the number of calories in school beverages will be capped at 100 except for certain milks and juices. By comparison, a can of regular Coca-Cola has 140 calories.

''Today is significant much like it was when Roger Bannister ran a four-minute mile or when the sound barrier was broken. Many did it later but somebody had to do it first,'' said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has joined Clinton's campaign against child obesity and battled chronic obesity himself.

Since 1980, obesity rates have tripled among adolescents aged 13 to 17 and doubled among younger children, according to a federal government report issued on Tuesday. An estimated 16 percent of children aged 6 to 19 are obese, it said.

Clinton illustrated how the program could help, saying an 8-year-old who cuts 45 calories a day from his diet would be 20 pounds lighter by the time he or she graduates from high school.

The former president, who has had two heart-related operations in recent years and was overweight as a child, has made child obesity one of his top public policy issues since leaving the White House in 2001.

BUSINESS EFFECT SAID MINIMAL Clinton praised the beverage industry for taking a risk with the initiative. But one expert said vending machines in schools are not a big revenue source for carbonated soft-drink manufacturers.

''The effect on their business will be minimal,'' said Manny Goldman, a beverage industry consultant. ''There's a lot more than soft drinks that is responsible for childhood obesity. But soft drinks are visible products and are an easy target.'' The agreement is part of a larger effort by Clinton's nonprofit foundation and the American Heart Association to promote a better diet and more active lifestyle for youths.

The beverage industry agreed to apply the new limits to 75 percent of the nation's public and private schools before the start of the 2008-09 school year and apply it to all schools a year later.

Elementary schools will sell only water, small servings of juices with no added sweeteners, and small servings of milk that are fat-free or low-fat.

Middle schools will have the same restrictions while allowing slightly larger portion sizes. For high schools, at least half of available beverages must be water, zero-calorie and low-calorie drinks.

Reuters KD GC1030

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