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Consumer Group Seeking to Can the Sale of Soft Drinks in Schools

Health: It says sugary sodas play a harmful role in youngsters' diets. Industry calls the claim unfounded.

October 22, 1998| From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The consumer group known for exposing the downside of theater popcorn and the fat substitute olestra now wants to ban the sale of soft drinks in schools.

Declaring that the sugary drinks make up a dangerous portion of the American child's diet, the Center for Science in the Public Interest also called for a tax on sodas and an end to pop ads that target children.

The independent watchdog group said it sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala asking for a national study on the health effects of sodas. The group said a private study showed soft drinks account for 20% to 40% of some children's and teens' daily calorie intake. It also said children drink more soda than milk, a reversal from 20 years ago.

Soft-drink giants Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. are competing for exclusive rights to put their vending machines in schools. The two biggest soft-drink companies say the agreements help them build brand loyalty with consumers at a young age.

"It's high time that parents limit their kids' soft-drink consumption and demand that schools get rid of the soft-drink vending machines," Michael Jacobson, executive director of the group, said at a news conference.

National Soft Drink Assn. spokesman Jim Finkelstein said the organization's report promotes "unfounded consumer alarm by attacking a perfectly safe and enjoyable" product.

"CSPI's strained efforts to blame soft drinks for various health issues simply are not supported by the facts and are an insult to consumer intelligence," Finkelstein said.

"Soft drinks have never pretended to be anything more than a nice refreshment product. They make no nutrition claim," he said.

Jacobson linked soda consumption to obesity, kidney stones, heart disease and calcium deficiency in teenagers, although he offered little scientific evidence.

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