Industry claims kids don’t drink
from Parents Advocating School Accountability, May 12,
Contact: Caroline Grannan, 415/337-0494 or
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The embattled soft-drink industry,
under fire from children’s health advocates for its aggressive
marketing to schoolchildren, has adopted a startling new PR
strategy: insisting that its products really aren’t very
The soft-drink industry vigorously promotes not just school
vending machines but also controversial “pouring rights”
contracts, under which a school or district sells one company’s
products exclusively. "The school system is where you build
brand loyalty," declared John Alm, president and chief operating
officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises, quoted in the April 6, 2003,
Yet the official line of the National Soft Drink Association
holds that middle school and high school students drink only
16.3 ounces of soda on average at school per week. Maxime Buyckx,
Coca-Cola’s director of nutrition, cited that figure in a May 5,
2003, Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.
That claim contrasts sharply with figures from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture showing that teenagers consume nearly
half a quart of soda per day. The USDA says that 56 to 85
percent of children drink soda on any given day, with the
percentage varying by age and gender. Teenage boys drink the
most, with more than a third downing more than three cans a day.
And business analysts reported that Coca-Cola’s annual sales in
schools amounted to $200 million, according to the March 26,
2001, Advertising Age.
Some soda-promoting school administrators and media repeat the
industry line. In Denver, a district where the soft-drink
industry has made major inroads, schools Superintendent Jerry
Wartgow told the Denver Post that the average Denver public
school student drinks less than a can of soda per week. The
Denver Post repeated the claim in a May 3, 2003, editorial
supporting soda sales in schools.
And an industry lobbying group called the Center for Consumer
Freedom downplays soda consumption even more, modestly insisting
that “most students buy just two dozen cans of soda from the
machines in a school year.” The industry claims refer not to
total soda consumption but merely to the purported quantities
kids buy at school.
One Denver student told a TV news station that those claims
didn’t apply to her. “Pop means a lot to me. It’s the only thing
I drink,” West High School student Isabell Pacheco told Denver’s
7NEWS for a Feb. 7, 2003,
Nutritionists view USDA figures as reliable. While the Center
for Consumer Freedom website brands healthy-food advocates “food
cops, health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling
bureaucrats and violent radicals, ” the USDA is more often seen
as staid, conservative and influenced by food industry lobbying.
Many in the nutrition field, violent radicals or not, express
concern about teens’ excessive soft-drink consumption. "Some
teen-agers, boys and girls alike, are consuming up to five cans
of soda every day," Dr. Robert Keith, an Alabama Cooperative
Extension System (ACES) nutritionist, said in an ACES press
release. "And while sodas have calories, they have no other
nutritional value. … If a teen is consuming roughly 2,000
calories a day, which includes five sodas, between 30 and 40
percent of their calories are coming from soft drinks."
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