This morning, ABA President and CEO Susan Neely will be on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress about the progress of our national School Beverage Guidelines. The guidelines were a joint initiative between America's beverage companies and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. They provide students with a broad array of lower - and no-calorie options along with nutritious and smaller-portioned beverages to help kids build healthy habits as they learn to balance the calories they consume with the calories they burn.
You see, we agree with parents and educators that schools are special places and play a unique role in shaping our children's health. And we also recognize that the obesity crisis is a complex, national challenge that requires us to re-examine old practices and find new solutions. All of us - policy-makers, parents, educators, industry and community leaders - have a responsibility to help teach children how to live a healthy lifestyle.
And we're proud that the American beverage industry is doing its part.
For elementary and middle schools, the national School Beverage Guidelines limit the beverage offerings to water, milk and juice so that younger children are provided more guidance to choose foods and beverages appropriate for their nutrition and caloric needs.
By the time students reach high school, they are given more freedom to choose their food and beverages during the school day. These guidelines provide more options for older children, while still capping calories and portion sizes. And no full-calorie soft drink products are offered in any grade.
Since we began implementing the guidelines, our member companies have spent hundreds of hours training their marketing and sales teams about the guidelines; worked with tens of thousands of schools across the country to amend their contracts; reformulated products and created new smaller package sizes; and retrofitted vending machines to accommodate the new package sizes.
And while change has not been easy, the industry is nearly done implementing this commonsense, real world standard across the country - in fact, we're ahead of schedule.
In just two years since we began implementing the national School Beverage Guidelines, there has been a 58 percent decrease in beverage calories shipped to schools and nearly 80 percent of schools under contract with bottlers are in full compliance - exceeding our 75 percent two-year goal.
President Clinton recognized the industry's significant accomplishments at a news conference where he said, "These results show that the commitment made by the beverage industry has been surpassed and the beneficial consequences to our schools are far greater than what was estimated two years ago. And they deserve a lot of credit for that. They did better than they said they'd do, and the results they delivered surpass where we thought we'd be. And that is profoundly important."
And our partners in the health care community also appreciate our success. Dr. Tim Gardner, president of the American Heart Association, said, "This is an important step in ending childhood obesity. The Alliance applauds the role the American Beverage Association and these companies are playing in helping to improve the health of our nation's children."
And parents like our guidelines too. A nationwide survey showed that 4 out of 5 parents support our School Beverage Guidelines. In fact, they supported our School Beverage Guidelines over more restrictive alternatives.
Some of the reasons parents gave for supporting the guidelines include:
• They appreciate the age-appropriateness of the policy.
• They like that it limits choices for younger students.
• Most feel that high school students are old enough to make choices.
In addition, the beverage industry supports physical activity programs - often the overlooked side of the weight management equation. Some studies show that kids spend upwards of 6-8 hours in front of a screen every day - until we get kids more active the scales will be tipped against our next generation.