Soda and other sweetened soft drinks are making headlines again. This time, it’s not because New York City is trying to limit the size of sugar-sweetened beverages. It’s because the soda companies have pledged to cut the calories that Americans consume from these drinks by 20 percent by 2025.

How are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group planning to go about this? The American Beverage Association has created the Balance Calories Initiative, which promises to take their efforts to provide “consumers with more choices, smaller portions and fewer calories to an ambitious new level.”

The beverage companies will work nationally and locally to achieve the goals of the initiative. On the national level, they’ll be doing three things.

  • Increasing their offerings of smaller-sized water and no- and lower-calorie beverages.
  • Putting calorie counts on bottles and on “all beverage company-controlled point-of-sale equipment nationwide.” Vending machines, fountain dispensers and refrigerated coolers that are owned by the beverage companies will show calorie counts that can be seen before the beverages are purchased or dispensed.
  • Launching a national and consumer awareness program called Mixify, which encourages “teens and their families to balance their calories by moderating what they consume, including beverages, and getting more active.”
On the community level, they also have some goals, including:
  • Focus efforts on communities where they see less interest or options in reducing their calories from sugar-sweetened beverages. They plan to focus on Little Rock, Arkansas, and Los Angeles, California, first to bring the “communities more in line with what’s happening nationally.”
  • They’ll also be promoting water and no- and lower-calorie beverage consumption in local markets, including offering coupons to drive interest.
I see some good in the initiative. I also see some parts of it that I don't think are going to be as helpful as proposed. Let’s start with good first.

Pros of the Balance Calorie Initiative

  • Consumers will have more information, and educated consumers make better decisions. Knowing the number of calories per serving before buying a drink from a vending machine is a good thing to know. (Knowing the number of calories per bottle is even a better thing to know.) I’m all for food and beverage companies giving consumers as much information about their products as they can.
  • The beverage companies are acknowledging that the calories in their sugary products play a part in obesity and health problems. It’s a step in the right direction.
Cons of the Balance Calorie Initiative
  • Smaller bottle and can sizes don’t necessarily translate into consumers drinking less — especially if the larger sizes are priced more cheaply than the smaller sizes. If you look in the grocery store at the 8-ounce cans offered now, they’re usually more expensive per ounce than the 12-ounce cans. And, like my 12-year-old and his friends recently discovered at the local pharmacy, the one-liter bottles of soda are only $.99, but the 16-ounce bottles of the same soda are $1.79 (often about the same price as the two-liter bottles.)
  • Low-calorie and no-calorie beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners may not help people to lose weight and just recently, scientists found a possible link between artificial sweeteners and diabetes.
  • I found the Mixify website to be confusing. The homepage has photos that you click on, taking you to social media pages where users post photos with the hashtag #mymixify. The first photo I clicked on had three images in it — a soda, a gallon of ice cream, and a reusable water bottle on it. I’m not sure how that equals balance. The official Mixify social media photos don’t make much sense either. They seem more about fashion than reducing calories from sugary drinks. I get the impression the goal is to get the #mymixify hashtag to go viral, not necessarily to inform anyone about calories in soft drinks.
Those are my initial thoughts on what I’ve learned so far about the Balance Calories Initiative — some good, some not so good, and some confusing.

Related on MNN:

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.