On Wednesday April 22, the California Senate Health Committee will vote on SB 203, the soda warning label bill. This legislation, when passed, will do for all Californians what cigarette warning labels did half a century ago – provide consumers with the information necessary to turn back the tide on a self-inflicted wave of illness that is entirely preventable.
In 1964, the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was released, conclusively linking tobacco and deadly disease. Despite loud opposition from the tobacco industry, cigarette-warning labels became the law of the land the following year, launching a broad campaign that has reduced smoking rates from 42 to 18 percent and saved the lives of 18 million Americans. Succeeding Surgeons General repeatedly strengthened those warnings to ensure that Americans have the critical information they need to make healthier choices.
Half a century later, Americans face a new health threat, one that mirrors in many ways the tobacco crisis: the harmful effects of soda and other sugary drinks. As with cigarettes, these products bring with them proven health risks. They are aggressively marketed to youth and communities of color. They are an integral part of the American lifestyle, consumed daily by more than half the population.
Soda and other sugary drinks – sports drinks, energy drinks, sweet teas, and juice drinks – have permeated society, putting these hazardous products within easy and immediate access of every American. Contrary to the steady diet of advertising, this line-up of sugary drinks is not “fun,” “cool” or “all-American.”
The unprecedented speed with which we absorb liquid sugar makes soda and other sugary drinks uniquely harmful. Within 30 minutes of drinking a soda, blood sugar levels spike, overwhelming the pancreas and transforming sugar into fat in the liver, contributing directly to diabetes. The 16 teaspoons of sugar in a typical 20-ounce soda are like diabetes time bombs.
With Americans drinking an average of 42 gallons of these drinks each year, it is no wonder that diabetes rates run parallel with the growth of sugary drinks.
Since 1964, diabetes rates have increased a staggering 670 percent. Of the 25 million people suffering from diabetes, almost a quarter million die each year from its devastating effects including heart disease and kidney failure. Millions more have limbs amputated, vision loss, or severe nerve damage.
One in three children born today – and half of African-American and Hispanic children – will develop the disease in their lifetime.
The reality is that drinking just one soda a day increases an adult’s risk of developing diabetes by 26 percent.
Additionally, liquid calories from sugary drinks do not satisfy hunger like calories from solid food or milk. As a result, sugary drinks tend to add to the calories people consume rather than replace them. Weight gain is the natural result, making soda and other sugary drinks the leading contributor to the nation’s obesity epidemic.
In the face of such overwhelming evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages are a unique public health threat, it would be irresponsible for the government not to act. California’s Senate Bill 203 (Monning, D-Carmel) would place a warning label on all sugary drinks. Like the warning label on cigarette packs, this cautionary message would present a straightforward statement of the findings of a large and unimpeachable body of science.
As we did with tobacco 50 years ago, it is time to take bold steps. Soda and sugary drinks are unique contributors to diabetes, obesity and dental decay. We have a responsibility to ensure that every consumer understands these threats. It is their right to know, and the government’s responsibility to provide consumers with this information. California’s warning label bill is a model for the nation.
Dr. Harold Goldstein is Executive Director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.Filed under: Soda Tax/Food Politics