updated 1/5/2004 1:41:37 PM ET 2004-01-05T18:41:37

Soft drinks should be eliminated from schools to help tackle the nation’s obesity epidemic and pediatricians should work with their local schools to ensure that children are offered healthful alternatives, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

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In a new policy statement, the academy says doctors should contact superintendents and school board members and “emphasize the notion that every school in every district shares a responsibility for the nutritional health of its students.”

Some schools already limit contracts with vendors of soft drinks and fast foods, though the soft drink industry has fought efforts by some states to mandate such restrictions.

While some schools rely on funds from vending machines to pay for student activities, the new policy says elementary and high schools should avoid such contracts, and that those with existing contracts should impose restrictions to avoid promoting overconsumption by kids.

The policy appears in the January issue of Pediatrics, being published Monday.

“The purpose of the statement is to give parents and superintendents and school board members and teachers, too, an awareness of the fact that they’re playing a role in the current obesity crisis, and that they have measures at their disposal” to address it, said Dr. Robert D. Murray, the policy’s lead author.

Source of excess calories
About 15 percent of U.S. youngsters aged 6 to 19 are seriously overweight. That is nearly 9 million youths and triple the number in a similar assessment from 1980.

Soft drinks are a common source of excess calories that can contribute to weight gain, and soft drink consumers at all ages have a higher daily calorie intake than nonconsumers, the academy’s policy said. It cites data showing that 56 percent to 85 percent of school-age children consume at least one soft drink daily, most often sugared rather than diet sodas.

The National Soft Drink Association, which represents most soft drink makers nationwide, said the new policy is misguided and goes too far.

“Soft drinks can be a part of a balanced lifestyle and are a nice treat,” said Jim Finkelstein, the association’s executive director.

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