The US soft drink industry has once more been forced to defend itself and the policy of self-regulation over how food and drinks are sold to children.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) yesterday hit back at calls from the Center for Science in the Public Interest's (CSPI) for regulating which foods and beverages may be marketed and advertised to children and how they may be marketed.

The ABA said: "Our member soft drink companies are committed to marketing and advertising their products responsibly and support and follow the guidelines of the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the self-regulatory body for children's advertising. We believe self-regulation of marketing and advertising practices is the most effective way to ensure that commercials or advertisements directed at youth do not contain inappropriate messages.

"Childhood obesity is a serious problem, and our industry is offering products, policies and programs to help parents and educators address the obesity issue. We provide a variety of beverages, including many low- and no- calorie options and smaller packaging sizes, and support a variety of physical activity and nutrition education programs. Where our products are present in middle and high schools, we work with parents and local school officials to provide a mix of beverages that is appropriate for their students, including bottled water, fortified juices, sports drinks (which contain fewer calories and less sugar), teas, and milk-based beverages as well as full-, mid- and no- calorie soft drinks. We also offer schools timers for vending machines that enable them to restrict access at certain times of the day and new vending fronts that are either generic or emphasize physical activity or product variety.

"In addition to offering product choice, major soft drink companies are also trying to be part of the solution with specific responsible policies on how they sell products in the schools. Those policies are available on the individual company Web sites.

"The beverage industry believes all foods and beverages in moderation can be part of a healthy lifestyle that includes daily physical activity and provides financial support to numerous physical activity programs throughout the country."

The American Beverage Association is the trade association representing the broad spectrum of companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the US.