LOS ANGELES: Soft-drink makers again saw their products tied to child obesity last week, as Los Angeles banned sales of carbonated beverages in its schools, citing soaring rates of overweight pupils.
LA, which boasts the nation's second-largest school district, became the latest in a string of municipalities to prohibit sales of soda, as its school board voted unanimously for the ban.
The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) responded with the message, "It's the couch, not the can, protesting to reporters that sloth, not sugary drinks, is behind rising rates of obesity. That message fell on deaf ears in LA, and the movement to oust soft drinks from schools is presenting the industry with a troubling communications conundrum.
"This could usher in an era when the industry has to be more aggressive in the PR realm, said NSDA spokesman Sean McBride.
Along with vending machines, the ban implicitly bars brands like Pepsi and Coke from school sponsorships, and dovetails with a statewide law prohibiting the sale of soda in elementary schools. Similarly, Texas recently banned the sale of carbonated soft drinks in its schools during lunchtime.
Perhaps most worrisome for the industry, critics have taken to comparing soft drinks with tobacco, arguing that soft-drink consumption is a public-health issue. California lawmakers have also pushed unsuccessfully for a tax on carbonated beverages similar to the "sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.
Manufacturers are fighting back with educational programs preaching more exercise for kids. Coca-Cola is rolling out its "Step With It! program, which encourages students to walk 10,000 steps each day, while Pepsi will launch its "Get Active, Stay Active program this fall, supplementing PR with a $2 million print campaign and book covers encouraging exercise.
Soft-drink makers are also looking to high-profile sports sponsorships to identify their products with a more active lifestyle. "We'll be looking to leverage our relationships with professional soccer, major league baseball, and the NFL, said Pepsico director of PR Larry Jabbonsky.