Soda should come with a warning label, say public health scientists, researchers

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Soda should come with a warning label, say lawmakers in CA, NY

Related tags Sugar-sweetened beverages Nutrition Obesity

Legislation requiring warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages alerting shoppers to the risk of diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay has been backed by a group of 34 leading public health scientists and researchers.

The proposals – outlined in bills introduced to state legislatures in New York and California this year - would require sugary drinks to carry the health warning ‘Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay​’.

In a statement listing the scientists backing the measures – click HERE​– the Center for Science in the Public Interest argued that “soda and sugar drinks promote expensive and debilitating diseases, but unlike most other foods or beverages, have no redeeming nutritional qualities.”

The California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) added: “Parents may know that drinking soda is not as healthy as eating broccoli, but they don’t know that sugary drinks, like sports drinks and sweetened teas, may be making their children sick.”

Sugar sweetened beverages are a key source of empty calories, says bill

The 2015 California Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act SB203 - first introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning in 2014 as SB1000 - has been described as "a red-tape nightmare for businesses and consumers,”​ by Bob Achermann, executive director of beverage industry group CalBev.

Achermann has also argued​ that the central premise of the bill - that soda is a key contributor to type 2 diabetes - is not supported by the data, adding in a recent press statement: “If consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is going down and diabetes is going up, then how are soda and other sweetened beverages driving the problem?” 

However, supporters of the bill - which has the backing of the American Diabetes Association among several other public health groups - argue that drastic measures are needed given the scale of the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

And while no single product or product category is solely responsible for these health problems, sugar-sweetened beverages are the "single largest source of added sugars in the American diet” ​and a "unique contributor to excess caloric consumption"​, states the bill, which says health warnings on cigarette packs proved effective at raising awareness about the risks of tobacco consumption.

It adds: "Studies show that prominent health warnings on the face of cigarette packages can increase health knowledge, perceptions of risk, and can promote smoking cessation of both youth and adults."

The CSPI, which has launched a provocative video featuring soda-guzzling diabetic bears to highlight the perils of excess soda consumption, has repeatedly called for action at a state and federal level to try and curb soda consumption

Sugar-sweetened beverages

The proposed bills  - which trade group CalBev argues are "riddled with loopholes and confusing exemptions"​ - define sugar-sweetened beverages as containing added caloric sweeteners and 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces. However, 100% fruit or vegetable juices, dietary aids, oral nutritional therapy products, infant formula, beverages "whose principal ingredient by weight is animal milk or a milk substitute"​, and syrups/concentrates are exempt.

While the previous incarnation of the bill passed California’s State Senate last year, it fell short in the Assembly Health Committee “due to heavy industry lobbying​”, claimed the CCPHA.

While sugar replaced fat as public enemy #1 in the nutritional stakes a while ago, the pressure on the soft drinks industry has ratcheted up further in recent months, with the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) advising​ "dramaticallyreducing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages", ​which it claimed were "consistently associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes"​; the FDA proposing​ that firms must list added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel; and the World Health Organization​ arguing the added sugars should account for less than 10% of energy intakes - and ideally less than 5%.

Industry association CalBev claims that between 1999 and 2008, sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages decreased by 37% among people aged two and older, yet Type 2 diabetes increased

ABA: The beverage industry already provides consumer-friendly labels on the front of every can, bottle and pack

However, the American Beverage Association (ABA) told FoodNavigator-USA that members already provided detailed information on products to help shoppers make informed choices, and has challenged​ ​the conclusions of the DGAC, which it argues "ignore scientific evidence".


According to California state senator Bill Monning, pre-diabetes in US teens more than doubled from 9 to 23% over the past decade, leading researchers to forecast that one-in-three children will develop Type II diabetes as adults.  In addition, over 60% of California’s adults and 40% of California’s children are overweight, he said.

VP, policy at the ABA, William Dermody Jr. told us: “Consumers want factual information to help make informed choices that are right for them.

“The beverage industry already provides consumer-friendly labels on the front of every can, bottle and pack we produce. A misleading warning label that singles out one industry for complex health challenges will not change behaviors or educate people about healthy lifestyles."

Click HERE​ ​to read the California bill SB203 – introduced by state Sen. William Monning (D-Carmel)

Click HERE​ to read the New York bill A02320A- sponsored by state Assembly Member Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx).

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