Warning labels will reveal the truth on sugar-filled sodas

Advocates have put out what a can of soda might look like with a warning label.
Advocates have put out what a can of soda might look like with a warning label.

Take a stroll along any California street, whether in Sacramento or Santa Ana, and you are likely to see three things: an obese child, a dialysis clinic and a soda billboard.

For decades the beverage industry has targeted young people in Latino, African American and low-income communities. Slogans such as “Open Happiness,” “Life Begins Here” and “Vive Hoy (Live for Today)” have fabricated an illusion that sugary drinks are key to the good life.

African American and Latina celebrities – including Beyonce, Shaquille O’Neal, Christina Aguilera and Penelope Cruz – convince children that sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled teas or juice drinks are cool. The beverage industry spends $382 million a year targeting teenagers; twice as many ads appear in ethnic media.

As a result, 3 out of 4 Latino and African American teens in California drink at least one soda or other sweetened beverage every day. This is not just a bad habit, it is a death sentence. Drinking just one junk drink a day increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 26 percent. Half of all Latino and African American children born today will develop Type 2 diabetes, which brings heart attacks, amputations, blindness, kidney transplants, nerve damage and, all too often, premature death.

Yet it can be prevented. An important component is to spread the word about the uniquely harmful effects of sugary drinks to counter the beverage industry’s propaganda. Senate Bill 203, which failed to clear the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, would have been a great start.

This straightforward legislation would place a simple scientific fact on all beverages with more than 75 calories of added sugar in a 12 oz. serving: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

The warning label will provide clear information about the consequences of consuming all that liquid sugar. Such warning labels are supported by California voters by a 3 to 1 margin.

Why focus on junk drinks?

The liquid sugar in sweetened beverages is a unique contributor to the diabetes epidemic. Unlike candy bars, which must be digested slowly, and provide fiber and at least some nutrients, sugary drinks are absorbed into the bloodstream in as little as 30 minutes. As a result, blood sugar spikes and much of it is transformed into fat within the liver, leading to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. These in turn lead to diabetes.

SB 203 restores our right to know the truth about what we put into our bodies. It also gives all consumers a powerful tool to make healthier choices decisions. The California Black Health Network and Latino Health Access ask all Californians to ask their elected officials to support SB 203 to protect all of our communities.

B. Darcel Harris Lee is president and CEO of the California Black Health Network, a Sacramento-based statewide policy and advocacy organization. America Bracho is executive director of Latino Health Access, a health promotion center in Santa Ana.