A coalition of more than 100 health organizations and individual experts have penned a letter asking for a U.S. Surgeon General’s report on sugary drinks, which many say are partly to blame for America’s obesity epidemic.
Signatories, led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – a consumer advocacy group – called on Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to direct Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to issue a report on sugar-sweetened beverages, to be used as a science-based reference on the health consequences of drinking these beverages.
“The report would pave the way for policy measures at all levels of government and for widespread voluntary actions in the private sector to improve health and reduce health care costs,” says the letter.
The groups say that a Surgeon General’s report on sugary drinks would be akin to its 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, which alerted the public and lawmakers to the importance of curbing tobacco use.
Health officials and researchers have expressed increasing concern over the past few years that soda and other sugary drinks are directly contributing to America’s obesity epidemic. Estimates suggest that 46 percent of added sugars consumed in the U.S. come from soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks, and studies have shown that an excess of added sugars can lead to obesity and a host of related health problems, including Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The letter, whose signatories also include the American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, points out that the 2010 federal Dietary Guidelines recommend replacing sugared drinks with water. It also cites a recent Institute of Medicine report that recommends implementing public health policies that limit consumption of sugary drinks.
“Excessive consumption of sugary drinks has devastating effects on the health of young people,” reads the letter. “One study found that each extra soft drink consumed per day was associated with a 60 percent increased risk of overweight in children…Furthermore, obesity has become a national security issue. Twenty-seven percent of America’s youth are ineligible for military service because they are overweight.”
Signatories stress the urgent need for action to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.
“Unless intake of those beverages is substantially reduced, the health, economic, and psychosocial costs of obesity will continue to rise, imposing unsustainable burdens on our country,” it says.
While many schools have phased these types of beverages out of vending machines and lunch lines, state regulations restricting sugared drinks have been met with more resistance. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under criticism for trying to impose “nanny” regulations when he proposed a law that would put a size cap on sugary drinks sold. However, the law is expected to pass muster at a Department of Health Hearing later this month.
Another suggestion included in the IOM report along with limiting portion size was a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The beverage industry has maintained the position that soda restrictions would be an ineffective way to combat obesity, saying that such measures do not address the whole picture.
“A wide range of factors contribute to these health conditions and singling out one ingredient – or one set of products – in such an overly simplistic manner only undermines efforts to combat these diseases,” said the American Beverage Association in a statement this May.
As for comparing soft drinks to smoking, “There is simply no comparison between soda and tobacco – not among our products, nor our business practices,” said ABA in a statement last month. “Tobacco in and of itself is harmful – in any amount; our beverages are not. They can be enjoyed as part of a balanced, active and healthy lifestyle.”© Food Safety News