Consumption of soda, fruit drinks and sports drinks is down. Diabetes is up. Obesity rates remain steady. So how can sugar-sweetened beverages be a unique or significant contributor to these health issues? The numbers just don’t add up.
We all agree that obesity is a serious and complex issue. However, it is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain – particularly since calories from sweetened beverages play a small and declining role in the average American diet (“Public needs warning on soda’s threat to health” Editorials, May 11).
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that foods, not beverages, are the top source of sugars in the American diet. And calories in the American diet specifically from added sugars in soda declined 39 percent since 2000.
According to a data from the USDA, “What We Eat In America,” sugar actually plays a minor role in additional calories in the American diet, most of which come from fats, oils and starches. During the past four decades, as obesity rates climbed, the American food supply added an additional 445 calories per day. While fats, oils and starches constituted 376 of these additional calories, or 84 percent, sugar – from all sources – played a relatively minor role, contributing only 34 calories, or 9 percent.
Senate Bill 1000 would mandate “safety warning labels” on more than 500 beverages, singling them out for contributing to obesity and diabetes. This bill creates as much confusion as information. For instance, milk-based products like frappuccinos, mochas and milkshakes would not be required to carry the label, even though some of these products contain just as much sugar as a soda and even more calories.
Bottles and cans of sweetened beverages already have two calorie labels – one on the front of the package and another on the back. In 2010, in support of first lady Michelle Obama’s launch of the “Let’s Move!” campaign, the beverage industry announced the “Clear on Calories” initiative – a voluntary commitment to place easy-to-read calorie labels on the front of every bottle, can and pack they produce. By placing total calories per container on the front of all bottles and cans, consumers know exactly how many calories are in a beverage before making a purchase.
For the first time in 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration announced a national effort to improve the information available to consumers on nutrition labels. The changes will apply to all foods and beverages in every state, emphasizing a greater understanding of nutrition science. A science-based national standard is a far better approach than individual state warnings.
Ultimately, singling out the beverages we drink and blaming them for obesity distracts us from better education about health and meaningful solutions to improve our overall health – not just our waistlines.
Bob Achermann is executive director of the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association.