WASHINGTON -- In mid August, the American Beverage Association (ABA) announced that the association's Board of Directors had approved a new school vending policy aimed at providing lower- calorie and/or nutritious beverages and limiting the availability of soft drinks in schools.

Under the new policy, the beverage industry will provide elementary schools with only water and 100 percent juice. Middle schools will only be allowed to have nutritious and/or lower calorie beverages, such as water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks, no-calorie soft drinks, and low-calorie juice drinks. No full-calorie soft drinks or full-calorie juice drinks with five percent or less juice will be available in middle schools until after school; and high schools will have a variety of beverage choices, such as bottled water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks, and juice drinks. However, no more than 50 percent of the vending selections will be soft drinks in high schools.

"As Lt. Governor and Chair of the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund, I've worked hard to ensure that North Carolina children have healthy options in school vending,” said North Carolina Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue. “The beverage industry should be commended for listening to parents, lawmakers and school officials across the country. This initiative makes meaningful changes to the beverages sold through vending machines in schools and should be welcome news for anyone who cares about children's health."

The American Beverage Association is asking beverage producers and school districts to implement the new policy as soon as possible. Where school beverage contracts already exist, the policy would be implemented when the contract expires or earlier if both parties agree. The success of the policy is dependent on voluntary implementation of it by individual beverage companies and by school officials. The policy will not supercede federal, state and local regulations already in place. ABA's Board of Directors, which unanimously approved the policy, represents 20 companies that comprise approximately 85 percent of school vending beverage sales by bottlers, according to the ABA.

"Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., and the responsibility for finding common-sense solutions is shared by everyone, including our industry. We intend to be part of the solution by increasing the availability of lower-calorie and/or nutritious beverages in schools," said Susan K. Neely, ABA president and chief executive officer. The beverage industry provides a wide variety of beverage products to schools, including bottled water, juice, juice drinks, teas, sports drinks, dairy-based beverages and full- and no-calorie soft drinks. The industry will continue to develop innovative new beverage choices, including additional low- and no-calorie products.

"Healthy and active kids can certainly enjoy soft drinks and juice drinks, but we understand that parents want more control over what their younger children consume in school and we want to support them with this policy," Neely said.

The ABA plans to run print and broadcast advertising to educate the public about the new policy.

The beverage industry also supports numerous physical activity initiatives across the country to encourage people to be more active. Beverage companies provide millions of dollars of support to the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs and sponsor youth sports teams and leagues throughout the country.

The American Beverage Association is the trade association representing the broad spectrum of companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the United States.