Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Soda in Schools

The beverage industry, in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation, today is announcing new voluntary restrictions on sales of soda and high-caloric drinks in schools, the Washington Post (here and here) and Associated Press (via USA Today) reported this morning.

I covered earlier voluntary restrictions by the American Beverage Association with much skepticism, but the new steps actually appear to have some teeth.

At first reading, strengths include voluntary restrictions even on diet sodas and smaller serving sizes even for fruit juices in elementary schools. In elementary schools, these steps are important, because of manipulative marketing to build brand loyalty in young children, and the caloric content even of fruit juice. I think, in modern America, for middle schoolers and high schoolers, the solution to manipulative marketing may be to teach the students sufficient skepticism to undermine the marketing, rather than formal restrictions.

The policy announced today, one day after the release of an FTC report on food marketing to children, would take effect only slowly over several years. Sales of drinks other than high-calorie sodas at high schools would remain permissive, and there would be no limits on sales of sugary sodas at school related events in the afternoons and evenings.

Still, with my fingers crossed that I haven't been fooled by something I missed, I must admit to being impressed by today's announcement. It is one step forward, on one of the leading areas of concern for children's nutrition today.

[Update: Same day. With characteristic good sense and reasonable pragmatism, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today applauded the new agreement and dropped its lawsuit over sodas in schools.]