The first proposal of its kind would put California,
which banned sodas and junk food from public schools in 2005, back
in the vanguard of a growing national movement to curb the
consumption of high-caloric beverages that medical experts say are
largely to blame for an epidemic of childhood obesity.
A growing body of research has identified sugary drinks as the
biggest contributors to added, empty calories in the American diet,
and as a major culprit in a range of costly health problems
associated with being overweight.
More than a third of all U.S. adults and nearly 17 percent of
children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Efforts to curtail consumption of sugary drinks through taxes and
other efforts have met fierce resistance from the U.S. food and
beverage industry, which came out against the California labeling
bill on Thursday.
"It is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely
responsible for weight gain. In fact, only 4.0 percent of calories
in the average American diet are derived directly from soda," CalBev,
the California arm of the American Beverage Association, said in a
statement on Thursday.
Foods other than soda do account for most of the overall calories
Americans ingest. But unlike calories from sugary drinks, food
calories often are bound to protein, vitamins, fiber and other
things of nutritional value, experts said.
State Senator Bill Monning, who sponsored the warning label bill and
whose effort to push a state tax on sugary drinks died last year,
said the new measure was crafted in such a way as to address
criticism leveled at other measures.
During debate over a proposed soda levy, the industry asserted that
the public needed education about sugar, not another tax and derided
his legislation as an example of California assuming the role of a
Monning said his labeling bill is akin to health warnings already
carried on tobacco and alcohol products and focuses on health risks
that a broad body of science has clearly linked to sugary drinks.
"When the science is this conclusive, the state of California has a
responsibility to take steps to protect consumers," he said.
"I think there will still be opposition from industry, but we'll
probably have stronger support in the legislature," Monning said in
an interview with Reuters.
Business groups such as the American Beverage Association, which
represents industry leaders such as Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo Inc and Dr
Pepper Snapple Group Inc, have a track record of fighting off
efforts to clamp down on high-calorie beverages.
In New York City in 2012, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg spearheaded a
ban on sales of large sugary drinks, but the move was declared
illegal by a state judge after a legal challenge by soft drink
makers and a restaurant group.
New York's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal.
Strong industry opposition helped kill soda tax proposals in two
other California cities, as well as in the ski resort town of
Telluride, Colorado. The cities of San Francisco and Berkeley both
are considering soda tax measures this year.
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AIMED AT EDUCATION
Supporters of the legislation introduced on Thursday said the
warning labels would merely provide consumers with information they
should have to make healthy, informed choices.
"My own husband had to watch his father have, first his foot and
then his leg amputated from diabetes," said Darcel Lee, a physician
who is executive director of the California Black Health Network,
which supports the bill along with the California Medical
Association, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and
Under the bill, all beverage containers with added sweeteners that
have 75 calories or more per 12 ounces would be required to carry a
label that reads: State of California Safety Warning: Drinking
beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and
The label text was developed by a national panel of nutrition and
public health experts.
Supporters said the requirement would effectively apply to any
sugar-sweetened sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, vitamin water
and iced teas, all of which he said have been marketed more
aggressively by beverage makers in recent years.
U.S. soda consumption rose sharply in recent decades, even as the
health risks of sugary drinks became better understood.
Drinking just one soda a day increases an adult's likelihood of
being overweight by 27 percent and a child's by 55 percent, while a
soda or two a day increases the risk of diabetes by 26 percent,
Unless current trends are reversed, health advocates say, one in
three U.S. children born after the year 2000, and nearly half of
Latino and African-American children, will develop type-2 diabetes
in their lifetimes.
Other health risks linked with obesity include heart disease, cancer
By the sheer magnitude of California's economy, requiring safety
labels on sodas sold there would likely influence other states or
the federal government to follow suit.
Obesity accounts for nearly $200 billion a year in U.S. medical
spending, more than 20 percent of national healthcare costs,
according to a 2012 report in the Journal of Health Economics. It
also is linked to lower worker productivity and diminished quality
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein;
additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Lisa Baertlein; editing by
Sophie Hares and Andre Grenon)
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