EDITORIAL: Legislature should put warning on sugary soda

FresnoMay 11, 2014 

A bill by state Sen. Bill Monning would make California the first state in the nation to put a tobacco-style health warning on sugary beverages.

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The risks, by now, should be familiar. For years, sugary soft drinks have been linked with skyrocketing rates of obesity and related disease.

Guzzle a regular, 20-ounce bottle of cola and you've just downed the liquid equivalent of 16 sugar packets. Make it a habit -- say, a bottle or two daily -- and now you're 26% more likely to become a Type 2 diabetic. If you're a child, you're also 55% more likely to become overweight.

We all already know this, right?

Not so much, according to the public health advocates behind Senate Bill 1000 by state Sen. Bill Monning, a Santa Cruz-area Democrat. Monning's bill, which awaits action in the Senate Appropriations Committee, would make California the first state in the nation to put tobacco-style health warnings on sugary beverages.

Proposed for container fronts of all sweetened drinks with 75 calories or more per serving, the labels would remind that drinking beverages with added sugar "contributes" to obesity, diabetes and other ills.

Diabetes alone accounts for $1 of every $5 spent on health care in the nation. Though the adult-onset version arises from a number of factors, its link to obesity is proven. Sugary drinks are America's top source of added calories.

So health organizations have worked to get the word out and made some progress. California schools no longer sell soft drinks, and soda consumption, on average, is way down nationally.

But not everyone is getting the message. Sixty-five percent of California teenagers down one or more sugary drinks daily, for instance, and the state's biggest consumers of these beverages are Latinos and African Americans.

Perhaps consequently, Type 2 diabetes is now epidemic in black and Latino communities, and nearly 1 in 4 teenagers nationally is on the verge of the disease or already has it. Disturbingly, according to a recent report in the journal Pediatrics, that rate appears to have more than doubled during the past decade.

The beverage industry says it shouldn't be singled out for diseases that stem from many factors, and that requiring custom labels for just one state is expensive and possibly illegal. Plus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration already is overhauling nutrition labels. Isn't that enough?

If only.

What teenager studies the fine print on the back of a Coke can? And warning labels on sugary drinks have been pending for years before the FDA.

A science-based, front-of-the-can warning is a reasonable, at-a-glance step that would inform more kids and parents.

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