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Statement in response to Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine Study “Wide Availability of High-Calorie Beverages in US Elementary Schools.”

Despite much positive progress in recent years on the fight to reduce the consumption of high calorie beverages by school children, a study published this month in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (APAM) (Nov. 1, 2010) has prompted discussion about the effectiveness of voluntary agreements with the beverage industry.

In 2006 the Alliance for a Healthier Generation brokered the Alliance School Beverage Agreement with the beverage industry to implement the Alliance School Beverage Guidelines (the Guidelines) in schools across the country. The Guidelines, based on American Heart Association science, stipulate that only age-appropriate, lower-calorie and more nutritious beverages may be sold to schools. The agreement with the beverage industry further stipulated that the signatories must make an annual progress report publicly available.

The third such report, delivered in March 2010, showed that by the beginning of the 2009/10 school year, 98.8 percent of all measured schools and school district contracts were in compliance with the Guidelines and that as a result of the voluntary agreement, there had been an 88 percent reduction in beverage calories shipped to schools between 2004 and the 2009/10 school year.

The APAM study released this month reports that high-calorie beverages, not allowed by the Guidelines, were still widely available in elementary schools through vending machines, a la carte lines, snack bars, fundraisers and school stores. These results would appear to be at odds with the findings of the final beverage agreement progress report. However, there are notable differences between the studies.

The biggest difference is that the APAM report looked at competitive beverages in elementary schools only. The final Alliance School Beverage Agreement report examined beverages shipped from distributors into all school districts and schools with a beverage contract, which is the focus of our voluntary agreement with industry.

The timeframe of the APAM study was the 2008-09 school year. The final Alliance School Beverage Agreement report tracked progress through the middle of the 2009-10 school year. This is an important difference because a significant number of districts did not fully implement the changes brought about by the Alliance School Beverage Agreement until the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

The contrast between the final Alliance School Beverage Agreement report and APAM study indicates the importance of addressing both the supply and demand side of the equation. We believe that the Alliance-brokered agreement with the beverage industry significantly moved the needle on the supply side by dramatically reducing calories shipped to schools. However, Turner’s study clearly indicates that there is still work to be done on the demand side – in the schools – because elementary schools are clearly finding other means to provide less healthy beverages to their students.

The Alliance remains committed to further eliminating high calorie beverages from schools. To that end, we are dedicated to helping schools in all 50 states create a culture where providing lower calorie and more nutritious beverage options for children is the norm and not the exception. The more than 9,000 schools involved in the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program have found ways to offer healthier beverages and maintain revenues, evidenced by 84 percent of participating Healthy Schools Program schools fully implementing the Alliance School Beverage Guidelines.

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