, (PressExposure) May 25, 2006 -- Bill Clinton deserves a big pat on the back for his role in brokering a deal that puts a stop to the sale of sugary, fizzy sodas in the country's schools.
That's the view of popular obesity information Website ObesityCures.com. The nation's top beverage makers have agreed to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools. High school vending machines and cafeterias will see a similar exodus of sugary sodas, although diet drinks and sports drinks would still be available.
Announcing the deal in New York on 04 May, Clinton described it as "a bold step forward in the struggle to help 35 million young people lead healthier lives," adding that it could add "years and years and years" to their lives.
Fizzy drinks in schools are widely acknowledged as one of the major contributors to the growing child and teenage obesity problem world-wide. With industry heavyweights Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola and Pepsi on board, it's estimated that the agreement will reach nearly 90 percent of the school beverage market.
"With that kind of reach, this deal could indeed have a hugely positive effect of the nation's future heath," said ObesityCures.com publisher Alan Cooper.
"Could it be that Mr Clinton will end up making a bigger impact on the nation through his role in this one deal than he did in two terms as president?"
Advocates of healthy food in schools, while welcoming the agreement as a positive first step, say it does not go far enough, pointing to the calories in sports drinks and some flavoured milks as an example. Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a non-profit organization that opposes commercialism and promotes public health, had additional concerns. He said the deal still appeared to allow beverage companies to advertise in schools, on scoreboards and vending machines.
He asked whether there was any enforcement mechanism built into the deal and questioned its implementation timetable, pointing out that the industry signatories had not promised to fully implement it even by the 2009/2010 school year.
However, Clinton's foundation and its collaborator in this deal, the American Heart Association, themselves acknowledge that this is only the first step in a campaign for healthier food in schools. "This is really the beginning of a major effort to modify childhood obesity at the level of the school systems," said Heart Association president Robert Eckel.
Cooper said he shared some of the concerns expressed by Ruskin and other critics of the deal.
"But let's not discount the massive achievement in getting these beverage giants to agree to to this deal. At the beginning of talks, they were vehemently opposed to any concessions. "For now let's give this breakthrough the credit it deserves, but continue to push for further measures to make our schools completely junk food-free zones," Cooper said.