American and Kentucky Beverage Associations fighting childhood obesity with better drink choices

09/07/2017 03:27 PM

NEWPORT – Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Kentucky and the nation, and the American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and other non-alcoholic drink manufacturers are spearheading multiple initiatives that help reduce the beverage calories from sugar in kid’s diets.

Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, who was in Newport on Thursday for the annual meeting of the Kentucky Beverage Association, says that her industry is working extensively at reducing the size of high calorie drinks in schools and offering low calorie alternatives in an effort to contribute to a student’s healthier lifestyle.

“We started with the schools a number of years ago and listened to moms and dads who had kids in school, K through 12, and did what they told us which was to change the beverage mix in schools, give the kids choices but take the calories out,” Neely said. “That resulted in 90 percent reduction in beverage calories that were being sold in schools.”

Neely says that one of the keys to success is the fact the kids were still being offered choices, but those choices include less calories.

“What we did in schools was change the mix, so we lowered the calories, but high school students still have the full array of options from soft drinks to teas, to juices, to flavored waters to regular water, and we hope that makes learn how to choose properly for them.”

The industry has also made the calorie count in any beverage easily accessible.

“We agreed to put the calorie label on the front of every can, bottle, and pack,” Neely said. “So, look to the label so you’ll know what’s in there and that will help you make the choice that’s right for you.”

Neely says that one misconception that the industry faces in their fight against obesity is the growing criticism of diet drinks and information which says that they could contribute to many health issues including weight gain; something Neely says is simply not true.

“Let me tell you what the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and all other sort of mainstream health bodies say, diet beverages are totally safe, and they’re beneficial if you’re trying to watch your weight,” Neely said. “I think there’s perception issues out there, things get going on the internet and get passed around and nobody knows what’s true and what isn’t, but I can tell you what the mainstream health organizations say and they say that diet beverages are safe.”

As for the future, Neely says the industry faces challenges, with some negative and others positive.

“The biggest challenge is just making sure that consumers have the facts and information and choice that they need,” Neely said. “Keeping up with all of the choices that people want because they seem to be endless.”


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