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WASHINGTON, Aug 18 (AFP) - The US soft drinks industry, which critics claim plies kids with "liquid candy" to the detriment of their health, is promising new measures to limit soda in schools.
The move followed fierce debate between the soda industry and health campaigners, amid signs that nutritionally poor, fatty, sugar-packed diets and a dearth of exercise contribute to rising obesity among American children.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) representing the 85 billion-dollar US industry, which includes soft drink behemoths like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, said it wanted to help parents control how many drinks their children consume.
"Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the US and the responsibility for finding common-sense solutions is shared by everyone, including our industry," said ABA president and CEO Susan Neely.
"We intend to be part of the solution by increasing the availability of lower-calorie and/or nutritious beverages in schools," she said.
New guidelines will see only water and 100 percent juice drinks stocked in vending machines in elementary schools, which cater for children aged between five to 11.
Children at middle schools aged between 11 and 14 will be able to buy drinks limited to nutritious and lower-calorie beverages and low-calorie juice drinks.
High schoolers between 14 and 18 will have a bit more choice, as no more than 50 percent of vending machine offerings will be soft drinks, with selections mixed in with 100 percent juice, sports drinks and juice beverages.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a private group dedicated to informing the public on the debate on health policy, welcomed the move announced Wednesday by the ABA, with which it has frequently clashed.
The decision was "an encouraging step from an industry that, up to now, has thwarted angry parents who want to get soda out of their kids' lives."
"The soda industry has aggressively and shamefully taken advantage of the precarious financial position of many public school systems," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan.
"I think the soda industry sees the handwriting on the wall."
In July, the CPSI warned that soda drinks were "liquid candy" for children who often guzzle up to three pops a day and demanded cigarette-style health warnings on cans.
The beverage industry rejected the call, saying that soft drinks should be enjoyed in moderation.
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