“STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
This is the warning label that was proposed to appear on all sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and other sugary beverages.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest contributor of added calories in American diets. These beverages and the consumption of “liquid sugar” pose unique health risks, many of which consumers are unaware of. According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), drinking one soda per day increases the risk for obesity in adults by 27 percent, and a child’s risk by 55 percent. The average American consumes over 38 pounds of sugar per year JUST from sugar-sweetened beverages.
38.6 pounds of sugar
There is an increasing amount of research linking sugary drink consumption to rising rates of diet-related diseases. According to a recent Change Lab Solutions webinar, unless the obesity epidemic is reversed, 1 in 3 children born after the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Almost half of all Latino and African-American children will develop type 2 diabetes if current trends continue. The effects of diabetes can be extremely serious, most commonly causing blindness, amputations, insulin shot dependence, kidney failure and nerve damage.
The beverage industry is intentionally targeting young people in their advertising, especially African-American and Latino youth. Higher exposure equals higher consumption. Something has to be done.
In February of this year, State Senator Bill Monning introduced the first legislation in the U.S. requiring safety warning labels on sugary beverages sold in California. The Senator, among other supporters of SB 1000 claim that this legislation will give consumers the essential information they need to make healthy and informed choices. CCPHA has been a leader in this movement, and has support from almost every major state newspaper, over 150 different organizations in California, and 74% of Californians.
SB 1000 continued on, but eventually the bill was voted down in the California State Assembly in an 8-7 vote. The bill passed the California State Senate, but fell short in the State Assembly’s Health Committee because of strong opposition from the beverage industry. With 74% of Californians in support of this legislation, it is clear that people want to be informed, but the beverage industry is resisting transparency.
The warning label isn’t the one answer to our nations sugar-sweetened beverage addiction. However, it is a first step. The purpose of the warning label is to guide the consumer’s attention to specific products, so that they can make informed choices. The warning label, as an authoritative statement from the State, aims to educate consumers. The label states a proven scientific fact. This is an early strategy to change social norms, according to the CCPHA.
For example, the Surgeon General warning on cigarette packaging was put on at the peak of cigarette consumption. After this label appeared on all cigarette packaging, consumption declined. Two-thirds of smokers say the warning label is an “important source of health information, decreases the attractiveness of the product, and is strongly associated with the desire and intention to quit”. This is the exact outcome we hope will be a result of a warning label on sugary drinks, and this is the reason the beverage lobby is so opposed. They know it will work.
Big Soda also knows that people are angry, and we want change. This is why the three largest soda companies (Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group) pledged at the 10th annual Clinton Initiative to cut the number of sugary drink calories that Americans consume by one-fifth in about a decade. How will they do this? They claim, “through a combination of marketing, distribution and packaging”. Their plans include expanding low-calorie and no-calorie drink selections, selling smaller portions of drinks, and using marketing and promotional skills to help educate consumers and encourage them to reduce the calories they’re drinking.
The beverage industry is attempting to distract the public from the fact that they lobbied against SB 1000 and that in the midst of making this pledge, they are pouring money and resources into fighting soda tax initiatives, which aim to reduce calories consumed by sugary beverages and educate consumers. The goals of SB 1000 and the proposed soda tax are the same as those outlined in Big Soda’s pledge.
The problem is that the beverage industry is more interested in protecting sales and saving face than in working together and the health of the American public. Sales of sugary drinks have been declining in recent years, so soda companies have expanded to offer energy drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters and juices. The market is already heading in the direction of healthier choices, so they’re essentially “promising what’s going to happen anyway”, according to Kelly Brownell, an expert on obesity at Duke University.
It’s no coincidence that this pledge is coming at a time when the beverage industry needs to rethink their strategies and gain points with the public. Not to mention, the soda tax vote in Berkeley is fast-approaching.
If the three biggest soda companies are sincerely interested in decreasing consumption of calories by sugar-sweetened beverages and the education of consumers, shouldn’t they be in support of legislation that will achieve those goals?
Even if these soda companies do focus on lower-calorie and smaller sizes of sweetened beverages, there are still many sugary drinks that are perceived as healthy by consumers. For example, juices with added sugar, or vitamin-enhanced “waters” can contain just as much sugar as a soda. The warning label on these drinks would equip the consumer with the information they need to make educated choices.
Luckily, CCPHA isn’t ready to give up the fight. They are confident that SB 1000 will be reintroduced in 2015, after “continued grassroots organizing, expanding organizational support, and increased community education”. In the meantime, spread the word, drink water, and voice your support!