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A ban on soft drinks in schools?
Report: Suit eyes change as some ask whether beverage industry profits at expense of student health.
December 7, 2005: 9:36 AM EST

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Thirsty teens like having soda machines at school, but are schools and beverage companies profiting at the expense of students' health?

Stephen Gardner, staff lawyer for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, argues that soda and other sugary beverages are harmful to students' health and intends to file a lawsuit seeking to ban sales of sugary beverages in schools, according to a New York Times report Wednesday.

Coca-Cola (Research), PepsiCo (Research) and their local bottlers will be named in the lawsuit, the newspaper said.

But the $92 billion beverage industry, dominated by Coke and Pepsi, will not go down without a fight. Last week, the lobbying group American Beverage Association released a study arguing that soda sales in schools are not a significant contributor to rising childhood obesity rates, the newspaper said.

The study concluded that school vending machine sales fell 24 percent from 2002 to 2004 and that the average high school student consumes just one 12-ounce can of regular soda a week from school vending machines, according to the report.

"This study confirms what previous studies have shown: that consumption of full-calorie sodas purchased from school vending machines during normal school hours is a very minor source of calories in the diets of American youth," Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, told the newspaper.

Seventy-five percent of all high schools, 65 percent of all middle schools and 30 percent of elementary schools have exclusive contracts with beverage companies, according to the Times, which cited a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Such contracts usually give schools a large upfront payment and a share of the revenue. But a study of public school contracts in Oregon concluded that the amount of money received by schools is not that significant and that most of the revenue goes to the companies, not the schools, the newspaper said.

The study, done by the Community Health Partnership, a public health advocacy group, found that school districts received just $12 to $24 per student annually. "Some people have the perception that there is a huge amount of money in this for schools," Nicola Pinson, a lawyer who was hired by the Community Health Partnership to do the study, told the newspaper.

Pinson said Coke and Pepsi bottlers get the better end of the deal. She said that one school district's 12-year contract with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Oregon, for example, requires the district to buy 420,000 beverage cases over the life of the contract; that translates into students spending a total of $10 million. Of that, $3 million will go to the district and $7 million will go to the bottler.

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