Lawmakers seek soda warning labels

coke side of lifeA group of state lawmakers wants to single out “The Coke Side of Life” for a mandatory warning label that could send the Pepsi Generation to unhealthy beverages.

State Senator Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and seven of his Democratic colleagues have proposed the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, which would prevent sodas from being sold in California, unless they include a warning label on the potential health hazards. The proposed warning label would read:

“STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

That’s not a formatting error. The bill mandates the first five words be all caps and that the entire notice appear in bold type.

Senate Bill 203 would require all “sugar-sweetened beverages” to include the warning label on its packaging and brandish the same disclaimer on all vending machines and soda dispensers that sell “sugar-sweetened” beverages. Violators would be fined anywhere from $50 to $500 per offense, with the proceeds going to a new bureaucracy, the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Fund.

pepsi, michael jacksonWarning label to combat diabetes epidemic

Proponents contend warning labels on sodas and other beverages will help stem the state’s growing diabetes epidemic.

“Given the rock solid scientific evidence showing the dangers of sugary beverages, the state of California has a responsibility to inform consumers about products proven to be harmful to the public’s health,” Monning said in a press release. “This bill will give Californians the at-a-glance information they need to make more healthful choices every day.”

The legislation pegs the state’s cost of diabetes at roughly $24.5 billion per year and puts the blame squarely on sodas.

“California adults who drink one soda or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, regardless of income or ethnicity,” the legislation declares. “A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains the equivalent of approximately 17 teaspoons of sugar. Yet, the American Heart Association recommends that Americans consume no more than five to nine teaspoons of sugar per day.”

Bill only targets ‘sugar-sweetened,’ not all sugary beverages

While the bill singles out sodas and sugar-added drinks, it ignores other beverages with similar sugar content. Excluded from the definition of “sugar-sweetened beverages” are drinks containing 100 percent natural fruit or vegetable juice with no added caloric sweeteners as well as dietary supplements, infant formula, milk and milk substitutes.

“We oppose singling out sugar-sweetened beverages for this warning label,” Robert Achermann, executive director of the California/Nevada Beverage Association, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

A recent study in the British Medical Journal found milk drinkers at a greater risk of cancer and heart disease. According to Forbes, “The good milk drinkers were more likely to die from heart disease and cancer, and among the women, the milk drinkers suffered more overall fractures and hip fractures.”

Some nutrition experts have encouraged school districts to ban flavored milk, which can contain as much sugar as Coca-Cola.

“Chocolate milk is soda in drag,” Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District, told the Associated Press. “It works as a treat in homes, but it doesn’t belong in schools.”

Stomach can’t differentiate between fruit juice and soda

Health experts have raised concerns about sodas because of their sugar content, not carbonation. And the human body doesn’t distinguish between liquids with natural sugars and those with artificially added sugar.

Last year, Susan Jebb, who leads a nutrition and obesity unit at Cambridge University, urged the British government to drop fruit juice from its recommended five-a-day servings of fruit and vegetables, according to The Guardian.

“Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit and it has as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks,” said Jebb, a nutrition expert. “It is also absorbed very fast, so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn’t know whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice, frankly.”

That’s backed up by 2014 research from Glasgow University which, according to the Daily Mail, found fruit juice is “potentially ‘just as bad for you’ as sugary, sweetened drinks.”

“Fruit juice has a similar energy density and sugar content to other sugary drinks,” said Naveed Sattar, a Glasgow University professor of metabolic medicine and one of the study’s co-authors. His example: 250 milliliters of apple juice typically contains 110 calories and 26 grams of sugar; and 250 milliliters of cola typically contains 105 calories and 26.5 grams of sugar.”

Researchers concluded drinking fruit juice is “probably counter-productive” and “fuels the perception that drinking fruit juice is good for health.”

Proposed warning label misleading

Even members of the medical community that back the measure attack “sugary drinks,” not sugar-sweetened drinks.

“When you have medical professionals, public health officials and an overwhelming body of science all pointing to sugary drinks as the leading contributor to the skyrocketing diabetes epidemic, California must take action,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which is sponsoring the warning label mandate.

If the concern is diabetes, the legislation could have the side effect of encouraging more people to switch to beverages without the warning label, such as fruit juice. Obesity expert Dr. Robert Lustig told NPR News that “calorie-for-calorie, 100 percent orange juice is worse for you than soda.”

“High-fructose corn syrup is only available in the United States, Japan, Canada and very limited exposure in parts of Europe,” Lustig told NPR’s Science Friday host Ira Flatow. The corn syrup is a common sugary additive in drinks and food. “And guess what? The whole world now has obesity and metabolic syndrome. So it’s not about high-fructose corn syrup per se.”

In addition to Monning, the bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Mark Leno of San Francisco, Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, Dr. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Fran Pavley of Calabasas; as well as by Democratic Assemblymen David Chiu of San Francisco, Das Williams of Santa Barbara and Jim Wood of Healdsburg.

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