As part of its commitment to prevent obesity in children, a large part of the soft drinks industry in Europe is to voluntarily stop sales of drinks containing added sugars to schools in the European Union.

The move expands on a commitment made in 2006 by UNESDA, which represents producers of four-fifths of soft drinks sales in Europe, not to sell beverages in primary schools nor to advertise them to children under 12.

The trade body’s members produce brands including Coca-Cola, Fanta, Lipton, Oasis, Orangina, Pepsi, Schweppes and Sprite.

The commitment starts now, says UNESDA, and will be introduced in the 28 EU member countries for complete implementation by the end of 2018.

From then UNESDA member companies will provide only no- or low-calorie soft drinks to the 50,000 secondary schools and their 40 million pupils.

At the same time UNESDA says it recognises that water must remain the foremost drink available to schoolchildren.

The move supports UNESDA’s pledge made earlier this year to reduce added sugars in beverages by 10 percent by 2020, further building on the 12 percent reduction delivered from 2000 to 2015.

“As an industry we are firmly committed to responsibly serving consumers of all ages across Europe, and are pleased to announce we will be voluntarily removing sales of drinks containing added sugars from all schools across the European Union,” said UNESDA president, Stanislas de Gramont, chief executive of Suntory Beverage & Food Europe.

“This new initiative further strengthens a successful existing policy, which has been comprehensively implemented throughout primary schools over the last decade and will ensure our industry is not providing drinks containing added sugars to young people during the school day.”

Speaking on behalf of Coca-Cola in Europe, Dan Sayre and Nikos Koumettis commented: “Removing sales of added-sugar soft drinks from secondary schools across Europe is the latest significant step that our industry is taking to help people of all ages make informed and responsible beverage choices while creating healthy food environments for children and adolescents.

“Coca-Cola is pleased to have been actively supporting this journey over the last decade by first removing all beverages from primary schools and today further extending that commitment, and is proud to be part of our industry’s wider effort to reduce added sugars by 10 percent across our portfolio by 2020.”

Cesar Melo, PepsiCo’s Senior Vice President Categories and Franchises Europe Sub-Saharan Africa & President Sub-Saharan Africa, said: “Children and adolescents are a special audience that needs particular attention and we are fully aware of our industry’s role in enabling young consumers to make healthy choices. We very much applaud that the commitment that our company made several years ago is today being embraced by the whole sector. As such, it will have a lasting positive effect on a great many people’s diets.

“It also perfectly fits in our Performance with Purpose vision, whereby we aim to deliver strong financial performance sustainably over time in a way that is responsive to the needs of society.”

Independent, third-party auditors, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, will monitor compliance and the results will be shared with EU authorities and food industry peers.

UNESDA says that the soft drinks industry reduced the average calories per 100ml by 12 percent between 2000 and 2015 and has increased the number of pack sizes smaller than 330ml by 150 percent since 2006. Two thirds of new products are either no- or reduced-sugar products, which now represent more than 30 percent of sales in many EU markets.