Big soda companies pledge to cut calories by 2025


From wire reports

In an ambitious pledge announced Tuesday, the U.S. soda industry is committing to cut calorie intake from beverages by 20 percent over the coming decade.

As part of the agreement reached by the American Beverage Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr Pepper Snapple Group will promote smaller portions as well as zero- and low-calorie offerings, and they will provide calorie counts on vending machines, soda fountains and retail coolers.

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The announcement was made at the Clinton Global Initiative and comes as the country’s three biggest soda makers face public pressure over the role of sugary drinks in fueling obesity. Former president Bill Clinton, whose nonprofit charitable organization, the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, helped found the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, called it “a critical step in our ongoing fight against obesity.”

“This is the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity and leverages our companies’ greatest strengths in marketing, innovation and distribution,” Susan Neely, president and chief executive of the American Beverage Association, said in a statement. “This initiative will help transform the beverage landscape in America.”

In many ways, the soda industry’s commitment is also something of a concession.

The announcement comes on the heels of several attempts to curb soda consumption on national and state levels. In New York City, beverage makers thwarted an attempt to place caps on portions of sugary drinks. In Illinois, state Rep. Robyn Gabel proposed a soda tax that ultimately failed. And in San Francisco, a tax on sugary drinks will be voted on in November. A national soda tax, however unlikely, was proposed last month by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

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And it’s not just lawmakers who are increasingly wary of soda. Americans have been eschewing it for years. Soda consumption has been declining in the United States for more than a decade.

Still, soda remains a big part of the U.S. diet. Americans on average drank more than a can of soda per day last year, according to the market-research firm Euromonitor International.

About one-third of all the added sugars Americans consume come from soda, energy drinks and sports drinks, according to government estimates.

“Rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic,” the Harvard School of Public Health notes on its website.

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This is why pledging to cut beverage calories by 20 percent by 2025 is seen as an important shift in the right direction. It’s also why voluntarily committing to market and distribute smaller portions of sugary drinks is no small deal, either – it stands to undercut sales of some of the industry’s leading brands, including regular Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr Pepper. The plan is to promote bottled water and lower-calorie drinks instead, which all three soft-drink companies sell in bulk. But each could see its business suffer.

While it remains to be seen how these promises play out, the announcement suggests that the soda industry has reached an epiphany: that it can no longer afford to ignore the fact that it’s time to make some big changes.

Still, there’s a lot more that the soda industry could be doing to promote public health, Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement. For one, he said, the industry could drop its opposition to taxes and warning labels on sugar drinks.

“We need much bigger and faster reductions to adequately protect the public’s health,” he said. “Those taxes could further reduce calories in America’s beverage mix even more quickly, and would raise needed revenue for the prevention and treatment of soda-related diseases,” he said.