PepsiCo removing soda from schools nationwide in an effort to fight childhood obesity

The fight against obesity in the United States is an ongoing one.  From “miracle pills” and exercise contraptions to various weight-loss programs, Americans are constantly looking to win the battle of the bulge. While dairy products are recognized for myriad health benefits – including protein, calcium and other critical minerals – and as part of a healthy diet, other beverages have been linked to rising obesity rates. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called childhood obesity a “national epidemic”, and has advocated healthy eating in schools to help children and parents develop good eating habits.  According to Donna Ryan, president of the Obesity Society, a group of weight-management researchers and professionals, “If you can get kids into healthier eating habits when they are younger, their weight may self-correct.” But once they become obese adults, it's difficult to reverse, she says.  In response to this initiative, PepsiCo announced on March 16, 2010 a plan to remove full-calorie, sugary drinks from schools around the United States.  The soft drink giant will also expand the policy worldwide, making it the first within its industry to do so.  According to the Associated Press: “The move, aimed at fighting childhood obesity, follows the success of similar changes in the U.S. by PepsiCo and rival Coca-Cola…. Coca-Cola this month changed its sales policy to say it won't sell any of its drinks in primary schools worldwide unless parents or school districts ask.” Other efforts to curb unhealthy eating habits include expunging foods that lack nutritional value – such as French fries and candy bars – from schools nationwide.  The federal government will soon be introducing legislation that not only bans these items from schools, but also requires schools to offer more balanced meals. America’s dairy farmers, including those in Washington, joined the fight against childhood obesity in 2009. In cooperation with the National Football League, they launched the “Fuel Up To Play 60” (FUTP60) campaign to empower school children nationwide to make positive changes in their health.  The goal of the program is to encourage positive changes in the nutrition and physical activity environments of schools – emphasizing 60 minutes of daily physical activity and increased availability of nutrient-rich foods such as low-fat chocolate milk, salad bars, yogurt-and-fruit parfaits and whole-grain pastas and breads.  There are currently over 1,600 Washington schools participating in FUTP60. No doubt there is still a long way to go in ensuring children are set up for lifelong healthy eating habits, but steps like these are encouraging.  For parents and schools alike, choosing low- and non-fat dairy products and teaching children about healthy eating habits are additional ways of keeping children as strong as possible, now and in the future. To learn more about how Washington dairy products are helping the fight against childhood obesity, visit our partners at the Washington State Dairy Council for tips, facts and great-tasting recipes.