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Public health group sees warning labels on sodas as inevitable

By From page A1 | June 19, 2014

A proposal to place warning labels on sugary drinks stalled in the state Assembly this week, but the Davis-based group behind the measure believes such labels are inevitable.

The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Safety Warning Act was passed by the state Senate last month but failed to make it out of the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday. Opponents of the bill argued that it unfairly singled out the beverage industry while leaving other unhealthy products without warning labels.

Despite the setback, Harold Goldstein of the Davis-based California Center for Public Health Advocacy told The Enterprise that he sees not only California, but also most other states, requiring warning labels on sodas within the decade.

With diabetes and obesity rates on the rise and sugary drinks linked to these conditions by an overwhelming amount of scientific research, Goldstein said, states eventually will have to take action.

“To me, the question is how bad does the diabetes epidemic have to get before we tell consumers about the uniquely harmful effects of sodas?” he said. “Liquid sugar is particularly harmful and it uniquely leads to diabetes.”

According to Goldstein, liquid sugar is so harmful because it has a faster rate of absorption in the body than solid sugar. Without any need for digestion, liquid sugar rapidly enters the bloodstream and can overload the pancreas and cause the liver to store the sugar as fat, he said. This dynamic can lead to fatty liver disease and diabetes.

Research has shown that consuming one or two sodas per day increases a person’s risk of developing diabetes by 26 percent — and that two-thirds of California teenagers drink a soda or more a day, the CCPHA said.

In Yolo County, 40 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17 consume at least one sugary beverage per day, according to data from the California Health Interview Study released last year.

That report also found differences among races and ethnicities, with 74 percent of African-American adolescents and 73 percent of Latino adolescents consuming at least one sugary drink per day, while 63 percent of Asian adolescents and 56 percent of white adolescents consumed that much.

In addition to other health risks, sugary drinks can lead to tooth decay as they contain acid that eats away at enamel, allowing sugar to penetrate underneath and cause cavities, Goldstein said.

“If you wanted to design a product that (leads to) tooth decay, sodas would be perfect,” Goldstein said.

Obesity, diabetes and tooth decay would all have been on the proposed warning label, which would have been required on all cans and bottles containing sugary drinks.

While critics of the bill have questioned whether labels actually would deter people from consuming sugary drinks, Goldstein believes they would be highly effective. He cited the success of warning labels in reducing tobacco use in the United States over the past 50 years.

“It’s about changing the way people see these products,” he said.

The proposal stalled in the Assembly primarily because of strong opposition from the beverage industry, he said.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” Goldstein said. “The beverage industry fought tooth and nail to undermine the efforts of health organizations across the state.”

— Reach Will Bellamy at [email protected]

Will Bellamy

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