The horrifying prospect of a 46% obesity rate by 2030 has pushed California state senators to approve a bill requiring brands to slap safety warnings on sugar-sweetened beverages from July 2015.
Approved by California’s senate last night, SB 1000, the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act prohibits the distribution, sale or offering for sale of any sugar-sweetened beverage in a sealed container unless it bears the following safety warning in bold:
‘STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay’
In a move that will please beverage marketers all the more (I’m kidding), the bill necessitates that the warning appear on the front of the container against a contrasting background in script, type or printing no smaller than 1mm, with no more than 40 characters per linear inch.
The penalty for not doing so? You’ll have to pay up to $1,000/day to the California State Department of Public Health and could face a court injunction after intervention from the state’s attorney general or any district attorney.
Senator Bill Monning introduced the bill – read it here – which discusses the US obesity epidemic and says that adult obesity rates in California have risen from 8.9% in 1984 to 25% in 2012.
“If current trends continue, the rate is expected to increase to 46.6% in 2030. Nearly 40% of California children are currently overweight or obese,” it adds.
Obesity is then linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, asthma and certain types of cancer, the bill states that 60-80% of obese adults (depending on their obesity level) now suffer from Type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure or related conditions.
Healthcare costs and lost productivity resulting from overweight, obese and physical inactivity are estimated to cost California $52bn+ annually, the bill adds, and the state's legislative move has already sparked a global debate as it moves before the Californian Assembly ahead of an August vote.
In a commentary written for the British Medical Journal (BMJ) yesterday, prior to the California move, Prof. Simon Capewell from the University of Liverpool suggests that the UK adopt a similar policy , as my colleague Nathan Gray explains in this article for our EU-based sister site FoodNavigator.com
Warning labels represent an “interesting natural experiment that may offer an effective new strategy to complement existing, potentially powerful interventions like marketing bans and sugary drink duties,” he argues.
But here’s the rub. The beverage industry contests a tenet of faith in the California bill stating that there is “overwhelming evidence of the link between obesity and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks [clearly the likes of Pepsi, pictured, Coke and Dr Pepper] energy drinks, sweet teas and soft drinks”.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) points to CDC data from 2005-2008 showing that US children and adolescents draw only 41% of added sugars in their diet from beverages, while 59% comes from foods – implying that critics are knocking down a straw man.
And the body also disputes – via its ‘Let’s Clear it Up’ website – sugar’s role in America’s obesity epidemic, insisting that USDA data shows “sugar actually plays a minor role in additional calories in the American diet, most of which comes from fats, oils and starches”.
But some influential studies, Malik et al., for instance in a 2006 systematic review on the link between CSDs and obesity/overweight , state that sugar-sweetened drinks contribute only circa. 8-9% to total energy intake in adults and kids, but say their empty calorie status is the main problem.
“Experimental studies have suggested that the likely mechanism by which sugar-sweetened beverages may lead to weight gain is the low satiety of liquid carbohydrates and the resulting incomplete compensation of energy at subsequent meals,” Malik et al. write.
“Many studies show a connection between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and total energy intake which supports the notion that, when persons increase liquid carbohydrate consumption, they do not concomitantly reduce their solid food consumption,” they add.
We’ll approach the American Beverage Association (ABA) for a statement later today, but in February 2014 the trade body criticized Monning’s California bill as a “discriminatory proposal” from “misguided politicians”.
“We agree that obesity is a serious and complex issue. But how would a warning label help anyone understand that the key to a healthy, balanced, active lifestyle is balancing calories consumed from all foods with those expended through physical activity and exercise?” the ABA asked.
“The short answer – it won’t!” the association said.