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Across Arkansas, families will spend the coming days and weeks gathering for the holidays. One of the best things about this time of year are the holiday dishes--the special meals and beverages and treats that we've loved since we were kids. What we serve our friends and families reflects who we are, where we came from, and traditions that span generations and cultures. We are especially grateful for the many choices we have and are able to share with loved ones.

The beverages we serve to families and friends are choices we make at the holidays, and every day of the year for that matter. We at the Arkansas Beverage Association are all about making sure that Arkansans always have a wide variety of choices in beverages and the information they need to make smart nutrition decisions.

To that end, Arkansas' leading beverage companies have joined to help people moderate the sugar and calories they get from beverages. We are doing this by offering many more choices with less sugar or zero sugar, and by making it easier for consumers to check the calories on each drink before they choose.

Beverage companies are also taking proactive steps to provide more, and clearer, information to consumers. We're displaying prominent calorie counts on the front of every bottle, can, and pack we make. We are also putting calorie information on millions of coolers and fountains nationwide, and many vending machines now allow you to see the calories in a particular beverage before making your selection.

Right here in Arkansas, as part of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Health Active Arkansas initiative, we have been active partners with University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Children's Hospital to reduce the calories and sugar consumed from beverages on their campuses.

This fits the ambitious mission Arkansas' leading beverage companies, including the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper, are pursuing to reduce the calories and sugar people consume from beverages by 20 percent by 2025--an effort called the Balance Calories Initiative.

These fierce competitors are working together with members of the public health community on meaningful solutions that can help people reduce the sugar in their diet without taking away consumer choices.

Since 2015, we've been working with stores, restaurants, and local partners in communities in Little Rock. Specifically, we're focusing on the downtown, southwest, midtown and south Little Rock neighborhoods. We're collaborating with retailers in these neighborhoods to display and offer reduced-sugar or zero-sugar beverages and offering in-store samples and other incentives to try new options. We've also partnered with community organizations, like the Derek Lewis Foundation, Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids (PARK) and the University District Development Corporation (UDDC), to develop programs and educational materials to help inform families about the beverage options available to them.

Beverage companies also have voluntarily removed full-calorie soft drinks from schools, allowing moms to better moderate the sugar in their children's diets. This move reduced beverage calories in schools by more than 90 percent nationwide. We've also created smaller portion sizes, and Americans have reduced their consumption of sugar from soda by more than 33 percent since 2000. In fact, 50 percent of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased today have no sugar, and 60 percent of new brands and flavors hitting the market are reduced- or zero-sugar drinks.

As we progress through the holiday season, leading beverage companies want to remind you that abundance of choice isn't limited just to holiday gift ideas. On behalf of the organizations we represent and partner with, the Arkansas Beverage Association wishes you and yours time spent together in laughter and good cheer over the beverage of your choice during the holidays.

Merry choices to all!

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Dennis Farmer is president of the Arkansas Beverage Association.

Editorial on 12/22/2018

Print Headline: Smarter choices

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