NC beverage industry cutting calories for consumer health

Amy McConkey is the president of the N.C. Beverage Association.
Amy McConkey is the president of the N.C. Beverage Association.

Rising obesity rates present a major health challenge in the United States, particularly here in North Carolina. The percentage of obese adults is 31.8 percent in the Tar Heel state. Research shows that 16.4 percent of our adolescents suffer from obesity, as well.

This isn't just a problem in our state – obesity rates in all 50 states have increased since 1990. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, from 1999-2000 through 2013-14, a significant increase in obesity occurred in both adults and youth nationwide. It's time we all do our part to help ensure children and adults in North Carolina and elsewhere have a healthier future by acting now to encourage smart choices.

Although beverages with sugar account for only about 6 percent of calories in the average diet, North Carolina beverage companies are doing our part to help consumers manage their sugar intake by providing consumers with more options with less sugar and calories in the beverage aisle. We’re also working with local leaders to educate families about proper nutrition and providing consumers with easy-to-read calorie labels so that they can make informed decisions.

Support from beverage industry leaders is critical to facilitating the adoption of consumer-friendly policies that will improve public health across states and localities. Voluntary, industry-backed initiatives have played a large role in helping cut caloric intake and reducing the calories and sugar in beverages.

For example, thanks in part to the innovation and reformulation of beverages by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper, 48 percent of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased today have no sugar, and 60 percent of new brands and flavors hitting the market are low- or zero-calorie.

At the N.C. Beverage Association, we are working alongside beverage industry leaders to increase consumer education and expand access to low- and no-calorie beverage options on grocery shelves throughout our state. And, as part of industry's partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, we voluntarily enacted the National School Beverage Guidelines and removed full calories soda from schools across North Carolina and America. As a result, the number of beverage calories delivered to schools has been cut by 90 percent.

Consumers can make smart and balanced nutrition decisions when armed with the best information and a variety of choices. We're tapping our strengths in marketing, innovation, and distribution to encourage people looking to manage their consumption of added sugars to try lower-calorie options.

North Carolina beverage companies are implementing consumer-friendly options, such as "buy one, get one free" offers for low-calorie drinks and prominent placement of lower- and zero-sugar drinks in grocery stores. In fact, these actions are in support of a collective commitment by the beverage industry to reduce the number of beverage calories consumed per person by 20 percent by 2025. We believe sustained, positive efforts like these are the key to creating long-term change that works for families, business owners, and communities in North Carolina and across the country.

When local government, public health officials, and private-sector leaders work together, the result is a powerful, long-term strategy to support families and improve public health. Putting consumers' interests at the center of these efforts will help ensure solutions work for everyone.

I'm encouraged by the progress we have made so far, and I look forward to the continued advancement of initiatives that help consumers live healthier lifestyles in North Carolina.

Amy McConkey is the president of the N.C. Beverage Association.