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.”

  • Ted

    What the hell? A couple of years ago it was fat in burgers, french fries making kids fat and ultimately killing them. Then the wind shifted and it was any breakfast cereal advertised on television was solely responsible for fattening kids to death. Years ago it was candy and between meal snacks. For a while there, it was Twinkies single-handedly doing all the damage. Potato chips and corn puffs have taken their turn as food phobia crash test dummies, too.
    But now, at long last we have the real culprit — “sugary drinks”!
    Yep, this time the amateur food geniuses have it figured out correctly. Just eliminate “sugary drinks” and our kids will slim right down and stop dying (one wonders, how will they not keep losing weight until they waste away?). Yessiree Bob, this time there can be no mistaken delusion — the geniuses have the cause narrowed right down to “sugar” (presumably sucrose)…not sweeteners, not starch, not oils, not honey, not fruit juice…”sugar”. But, but, but, but…most of the deadly “sugary drinks” are not sweetened with sugar at all, but with high fructose corn syrup…which we must never, never call “sugar”, according to our food delusion geniuses.
    Oh, what a paradox. This is all so confusing (could that be intentional?) OK, call me a skeptic but with all the false alarms you’ve sounded over the years what makes any of you fools think you have it right this time? What has changed in your method of diagnosis or your process of reasoning to bring about a correct determination this time, finally?
    You know, this agenda-driven crusade conspicuously tap dances around exercise and physical fitness, seldom acknowledges any role for sedentary behavior. Some anti-food zealots (and a few who know better) have gone so far as to claim exercise has no practical impact on body composition. But if we apply standard foodie kneejerk faux science to physical exercise in the same impulsive way we do to “sugar”, we might easily conclude the obesity problem arose simultaneously with the appearance of bicycle helmets and video games. Shall we ban both, what do you say girls?
    Maybe a scientifically valid Surgeon General’s study of nutrition, exercise and physical fitness in American kids?
    Naw, let’s just keep lurching from blame to smear to elimination of each pet peeve in turn with no result. And right now it’s sugar’s turn…until the next bright shiny object sparkles into view.

  • If we are considering the undersigned organizations and professionals as “amateur food geniuses”, we have a lot more to be concerned about than a request to evaluate the effects of sugar sweetened beverages on obesity.
    However, you do make a valid point in that sedentary behavior is a significant factor in the problem at hand. Actually, The Lancet recently published a series that examines the impact of physical inactivity citing it as one of the worlds greatest non-communicable diseases.
    I believe the intent of this request is to determine the extent of the contribution, as stated above, not wholesale condemnation. Once complete, the report could then be used in conjunction with other studies to develop comprehensive policy suggestions or lifestyle modifications that would address the growing concern over obesity. The operative word being “could”. As long as the results are not considered in isolation it may pave the way for lasting change.

  • Jed

    I agree Ted — what’s in our food and how it is produced is none of our business! This is the USA for Gawd’s Sake — where the Corporate Super-Personhoods hold supreme power.
    What they want us to buy is OK — no questions asked.

  • Agree with Matthew, especially about the ‘amateur food geniuses’. I’m not sure I would categorize the American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics as ‘amateur food geniuses’.
    The group is asking for a report detailing the consequences of soda consumption. Folks have been asked to provide scientific data related to soda’s impact on obesity, yet when they seek to provide this data in a compact form, they’re criticized, yet again.
    Without a report such as this, it becomes more difficult to argue for new laws, or restrictions such as pulling soda from vending machines at school (an appalling policy, regardless). I imagine the soda industry will invest considerable amounts in the fight against the report. It becomes much more difficult to obfuscate the obvious when the obvious is succinctly outlined.
    As for exercise, what people have stated is that exercise, alone, can’t fight obesity: we need to increase physical exercise but we also need to change eating patterns.

  • Ted

    Be careful what you wish for. So many anti-food activists leap to the certain conclusion a professional scientific report will automatically condemn “soda” in the same fashion tobacco was outed. That kneejerk assumption is utterly absurd, of course and to the extent it underpins all hue and cry to impose restrictions, even all-out bans, when a sane and sober ruling acknowledges “sugary drinks” are by no means as dangerous to health as tobacco, do you assure us your amateur anarchists will permanently drop your duplicitous authoritarian political maneuvering? Ironically, no matter the outcome of any Surgeon General’s report some of you must give up slurping your fanatic myth-sweetened foodie koolaid.

  • Belinda

    A surgeon general’s report will only remind us how public health educators and watchdogs have failed us. It was on their watch so many Americans became obese in the first place.
    Many of these “100 health organizations and individual experts” are the same ones who, for the psst 20 years have been cashing fat paychecks and putzing around crafting urban rumors of health foods and surefire diets…just faking and phoning it in, basically. Their incompetence and sloth have created an “obesity epidemic” and since they’ve demonstrated they cannot teach, instead now they want to legislate. They are serious about this! Self delusion beyond imagination.
    These bumbling boobs failed with the carrot, now they intend to wield the stick over our heads. Gonna whip us into line, they are. They are the ones who need stern adult supervision, maybe need to have some sense slapped into ’em.

  • Belinda, the facts do not corroborate your statement.
    Just picking one of the groups, American Academy of Pediatrics, I find the following in past years publication:
    And that’s only spending about 4 minutes doing a search. Note the articles go back over a decade — I know I could find older.
    So your complaint about the organizations becomes a distraction away from the message, which is, we need a succinct report on the linking of soda and obesity, especially obesity in children.

  • Now I will say that the Coca Cola sponsorship in healthchildren.org, which is run by the American Academy of Pediatrics is wrong. Just plain wrong.

  • Ted

    Uhh, ummm, aaahh, Shelley you do realize the AAP’s papers only document their progressive failure to control the obesity epidemic? They and the other “experts” utterly fail to resolve the problem. Instead they thrill in documenting progress of the obesity epidemic, rather like Wall Street bankers dutifully reporting the latest number of billions mysteriously vanished from client accounts on their ledgers and into some anonymous trader’s pockets. Not helping anyone but themselves. The public is left holding the bag in each instance. We don’t need more oppressive laws so much as we need more effective public health education. Just admit it.

  • Ted, the papers show evidence linking soda and obesity.
    Every time these organizations have tried some action, the soda companies bring out the front groups to yell “Nanny!” or to claim that no report from the Surgeon General is needed.
    In actuality, behaviorally, the soda companies are becoming just as bad as the tobacco companies–especially when it comes to using duplicitous tactics in order to undermine efforts to reduce soda consumption.
    As for your claims, what you’re doing is attacking the sources, because you can’t really refute the facts. That seems to be the only tactic you have.
    Getting tedious.

  • Maurice

    Ah yes — Ted the Troll is Tedious, that’s for sure… that’s because all he has is an agenda and his main tactic is disinformation and ad hominem attacks. TEDious. TEDious.