No more soft drinks at elementary, middle schools

Pop makers announce voluntary withdrawal of carbonated beverages from Canadian schools, reacting to concern about sugar content

Responding to accusations that its soft drinks are helping build a generation of chubby children, the Canadian soft-drink industry announced Monday that it will withdraw carbonated drinks from elementary and middle schools starting in September.

Refreshments Canada, a Toronto-based lobby group for Coke, Pepsi and other soft drink makers, insisted this week that its products are appropriate for schoolchildren.

However, Calla Farn, director of public affairs for the organization, said the decision was taken in response to concerns from parents.

Refreshments Canada won't have to give up its lucrative contracts in the education system, though. The manufacturers of soft drinks also distribute popular brands of sports drinks, fruit juices, iced teas and bottled water, and those will be stocked in school vending machines instead.

The carbonated beverage industry has started renegotiating or rewording contracts with schools based on sales of soft drinks on the premises, said Farn.

Those contracts have provided much-needed revenues for cash-strapped boards, many of them in return for giving one pop manufacturer "exclusive pouring rights" over other brands.

For example, one school board based in London, Ont., made $538,000 last year from soft drink sales to its students and members of the public using school properties.

Now, said Farn, "Those contracts will not include carbonated soft drinks."

High schools will continue to stock soft drinks in their vending machines, however.

With this announcement, Refreshments Canada may have pre-empted government action forcing its members to withdraw from the lower-aged schools entirely.

Ontario's Liberal premier, Dalton McGuinty, had promised in last fall's election campaign to remove junk food vending machines from schools because of growing rates of childhood obesity, dental decay and Type II diabetes.

INDEPTH: Obesity

Also on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new position statement on the presence of soft drink machines in schools. It recommended that vending machines not be allowed in the cafeteria and that soft drinks not be sold as part of school lunch programs.

The children's doctors pointed out that a single serving of soda pop contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Their position paper drew a link between the wide availability of soft drinks and the fact that 15 per cent of American children aged 6 to 19 are overweight – triple the level recorded in 1980. It also noted that between 56 and 85 per cent of school-aged children drink at least a can of pop a day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools offer children low-fat milk, unsweetened fruit juices and water instead of pop and high-sugar fruit drinks or sports drinks in vending machines and cafeterias.