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Soft Drink Industry Steps Up to Help Consumers Support a Healthy Weight

The soft drink industry has been active in addressing strategies that align with the Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 Initiative by helping consumers choose a beverage that's right for them with more choices, smaller portions, fewer calories and clear calorie labels.This has been done through the development of new products and the implementation of new policies and practices leading to a 23% reduction in the average calories per servingfrom 10 years ago.

In September of 2014 The Alliance for a Healthier Generation announced a new landmark agreement with the soft drink industry to decrease beverage calories in the American diet, and have set a goal to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20 percent by 2025.  Nationally, beverage companies will leverage their marketing expertise to promote smaller portion sizes, water, and other no- or lower-calorie beverages. Each beverage company will provide calorie counts, and promote calorie awareness on all beverage company-controlled point-of-sale equipment nationwide, including more than 3 million vending machines, self-serve fountain dispensers, and retail coolers in convenience stores, restaurants and other locations.  On the local level, beverage companies have committed to promote consumption of their bottled water products.

This agreement complements previous changes, including a program to provide general consumers with clear calorie information to help them make more informed choices.  The Clear On Calories Initiative was launched in concert with the national "Let's Move!" anti-obesity campaign.  A larger and consumer-friendly calorie label has been added to the front of every can, bottle and pack produced. The labels display the total calories per container on beverages 20 ounces or smaller. For containers larger than 20 ounces, calories are labeled per 12 ounces in most cases.                            

Next, the Calories Count™ Beverage Vending Program was developed to offer consumers clear calorie information, encourage lower-calorie beverage choices, and remind them that calories count in all the choices they make. On the front of vending machines, Calories Count™ signs include one of the following messages: "Check Then Choose" or "Try A Low–Calorie Beverage."  Selection buttons also include calorie labels that show calorie counts per beverage container.                                            

The soft drink industry also signed on to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.  This program, monitored by the Better Business Bureau, increases the percentage of advertising for products that meet certain nutrition standards directed at children under the age of 12.  The policy covers a wide range of media, including television, radio, print, video games, the internet and cinema, and includes product placement.  According to preliminary study findings between 2004 – 2010, from Georgetown Economic Services, advertising to children for soft drinks decreased by 96%; while it increased 199% for fruit and vegetable juices.

Partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the industry also made a commitment to change the school beverage landscape offered in schools.  The National School Beverage Guidelines implemented by the industry, removed full-calorie sodas from schools and replaced them with a range of low or no-calorie and smaller-portion choices. With help from schools across the country, the voluntary implementation of these guidelines by the beverage industry has led to significant results.  According to a report by Keybridge Research, there are now 90% fewer calories delivered to schools nationwide by the major beverage companies.

How does this play out in Michigan schools in making a difference in the health and wellness of school children?  Natasha Williams, Michigan Department of Education Safe & Supportive School Liaison reports that the New Haven High Schools Coordinated School Health (CSH) team initiated changes to their vending machines in 2012.   New Haven High School in Macomb, Michigan was awarded the Michigan School Wellness Award in 2014 as part of the 4 x 4 Initiative.  “The Safe & Supportive Schools (S3) Grant was awarded to us from the Michigan Department of Education to help us focus on improving our high school climate and culture.  Our goal is to improve the schools’ condition for learning which includes providing a healthier school environment,” said Natasha. “We know this begins with nutritional food choices and beverages.  Healthy student are better learners!  So in 2012, we conducted a Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth (MiPHY) assessment, an online student health survey offered by the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Department of Community Health.  The results helped us to make a data-driven decision and informed us that 31% percent of our students drank a can, bottle, or glass ofsoda or pop one or more times per day. The rate of obesity/overweight (at or above the 85th percentile for BMI by age and sex) for our students was higher than normal at 42%. We knew we needed to make changes, so we started by not providing sugary beverages in our vending machines,” she added.  

The Health Team worked with their vendor to provide bottled water and in 2014 began offering flavored water in vending machines.   Instead of free, plain water from the school’s drinking fountains, students liked having the option to select a flavored variety, while still receiving some of the health benefits of water, with less calories and sugar than soda.  

There was an added bonus.  “In addition, this change has also led the students to think about the health of their planet,” said Natasha.  “Due to the abundance of water bottles being thrown away, the student group ‘Not In Our House’ began a recycling program this past school year to reduce waste.”  Our efforts to create a healthy school environment has provided opportunities for students to learn and practice the healthy behaviors that support their learning and provide the foundation for their academic success, along with teaching them to be good environmental stewards, she added.  

The soft drink industry’s implementation of the National School Beverage Guidelines goes hand-in-hand with school wellness efforts to make healthy choices available to school children, as well as create healthy learning environments to prevent and reduce childhood obesity.  “This work was completed and is now in line with new Federal regulations called Smart Snacks in Schools which took effect July 1, 2014.”

For more information about New Haven High Schools Coordinated School Health (CSH) Team’s Safe & Supportive Schools (S3) Grant experience, please contact Natasha Williams at  or 586-749-5104, extension 1040.  For more information about the Michigan Soft Drink Association, please contact William Lobenherz at or 517-371-4499.