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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 4, 2006

Most sodas will be expelled from U.S. schools

By Matthew Chayes
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON Most sodas will be banished from almost every U.S. primary and secondary school by the 2009-2010 school year under a beverage-industry agreement brokered by former President Clinton, a deal that even the industry's harshest critics say is a progressive step in the battle for healthier kids.

As part of his campaign to stamp out childhood obesity, Clinton said yesterday that he hopes to seek similar accords with the food industry.

"We're turning a huge ship around in the middle of the ocean before it hits an iceberg," said the 42nd president, a self-described recovering junk-food addict who underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2004.

Hawai'i's policies for vending machines in public schools are ahead of the curve, officials said.

"We have a policy in place that says the vending machine selection needs to be primarily healthy," said state Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen. "The DOE has defined that as meaning 80 percent of a vending machine selection should be healthy milk, flavored milk, water and fruit juice with at least 50 percent juice content."

But national standards announced this week are stricter than Hawai'i's rules. Knudsen said the Board of Education is considering making its standard more stringent than it is now.

A committee is finishing work on changing the language to mandate that 100 percent of vending machine contents be healthy. That's expected to come to the board for approval in June.

The agreement brokered by Clinton calls for limiting the size of all beverages to 8 ounces in elementary schools, 10 in middle schools and 12 in high schools compared to some 20-ounce containers that now are sold.

In addition, any beverages that are sold must have no more than 100 calories, except for water, milk and nutrient-containing juices. Soda sales will be confined to high schools, and then only diet sodas. Milk must be skim milk or contain no more than 1 percent fat.

The new guidelines agreed to by the industry won't, however, affect events with numerous adult patrons, such as high school football games, according to Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, who is the chief science officer for the American Heart Association, which has endorsed Clinton's guidelines.

The guidelines are significantly stricter than others the beverage industry announced last summer.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has put children's health high on his state's agenda, said, "Today, we're really recognizing that the soft-drink industry has decided that it won't wait to be pushed."

That's not entirely true, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based group that often spars with the food-and-beverage industry.

"I think this agreement is about as voluntary as a shotgun wedding," Wootan said, noting that numerous local municipalities have adopted school rules to limit or entirely ban unhealthy foods and beverage sales. "Coke and Pepsi are not doing this out of the goodness of their heart. They are doing this to address the wave of legislation and litigation they were facing."

Despite the agreement he helped negotiate, Clinton did not dismiss the possibility of stricter local efforts.

"I think that the states are and always have been laboratories of democracy," he said. "Nothing in this agreement prohibits them from doing something else or something different."

Last month, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced legislation that would modernize and expand decades-old federal standards to control what schools can sell and where they can sell it. In a statement, Harkin's office called yesterday's announcement "a great step forward."

Wootan also praised Clinton's announcement but said the guidelines should have also banned sports drinks because they're unhealthy except when consumed after the kind of vigorous exercise most kids don't get.

Advertiser education writer Beverly Creamer contributed the section on the Hawai'i state Board of Education's policy.