Obesity epidemic is on the rise and US soft-drinks giants vowed to work to reduce the country's beverage calorie consumption by 20 percent by 2025 in a campaign to counter obesity trends.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple pledged to provide smaller-sized bottles, and more water and other low- or no-calorie beverages, to the market to help bring down per-person consumption of their high-sugar drinks.
They also agreed to better publicize calorie counts on vending machines, retail coolers and all drink-vending equipment controlled by the companies.
Appearing at an event organized by the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, representatives from each signed a voluntary initiative to employ marketing and consumer outreach to prod consumers to drink fewer sugary drinks and promote calorie awareness.
The goal is to cut calories from drinks by 20 percent per person within a decade.
The initiative comes as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and others struggle with flagging sales in their home market. Coca-Cola reported flat sales in North America in the most recent quarter.
Regulators in New York City, California and other venues have proposed measures to cut drink size or enhance labeling requirements.
The companies also said they would intensify awareness campaigns and promotion of healthier beverages in communities where there have been fewer options to often sugar-laden soft drinks.
They will retain an independent evaluator to track progress, in conjunction with an advocacy group set up by the Clinton Foundation, founded by former president Bill Clinton, and the American Heart Association.
Public health advocates said the measures did not go far enough.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a public-interest advocacy group in Washington, said the initiative was "welcome news," but called on the companies to drop their opposition to taxes and warning labels on sugary drinks.
"We applaud President Clinton for his efforts," the group said in a statement. "But we need much bigger and faster reductions to adequately protect the public's health."
Measures to tax sugary drinks "could further reduce calories in America's beverage mix even more quickly, and would raise needed revenue for the prevention and treatment of soda-related diseases," the group said in a statement.
Marion Nestle, a nutrition and public health professor at New York University, said the companies would have no problem reaching the 20 percent target in light of consumption trends that are already happening.
"If they really want to promote public health, they should stop fighting soda taxes and lobbying against this and other public health measures," she said in an email message. "This is pure public relations."