ATLANTA: Responding to criticism that soda consumption in schools is contributing to childhood obesity, the Coca-Cola Company announced a series of initiatives designed to improve its image among parents and educators.
"We have been listening and trying to understand what people's concerns are," said Kari Bjorhus, director of health and nutrition communications for Coca-Cola.
Coke's newly announced "Guidelines for School Beverage Partnerships" pulls together a number of existing Coke initiatives and adds several new ones.
The soft-drink company has been working for months to ensure all of its 80 US bottlers understood and agreed to the measures, Bjorhus said.
Coke gave AP an advanced look at its announcement. The wire service moved a story about it on November 14. Coke put its release on the guidelines on PR Newswire November 17, and faxed it to key media contacts.
Among the measures included are allowing local school officials to opt for Coke vending machines carrying a variety of Coke non-soda products and providing devices that can prevent elementary-school students from buying soft drinks from Coke vending machines during school hours.
The guidelines also note "promotional activities will be limited to programs that are re- quested by school officials to support academic achievement and physical activity."
Communications with school officials on that initiative will occur on the local level, said Bjorhus.
While the latest initiative covers a broad range of Coke activities with schools, "the process of listening, learning, and working with our school partners does not end with this," said Bjorhus.
The impact of soft-drink consumption on children's weight has been a key part in the US' recent obsession with obesity.
School districts in LA and Oakland, CA have banned the sale of soft drinks in schools because of obesity concerns.