Legislature bows down to Big Soda

A bill to require health-warning labels on sodas has floundered in California’s Legislature.
A bill to require health-warning labels on sodas has floundered in California’s Legislature. Associated Press file

Big Soda is killing us.

Sugary beverages such as Coke, Pepsi and Gatorade are significantly responsible for a health crisis in this country: the growing number of Americans with obesity and diabetes.

As the CEO of CrossFit, the nation’s fastest-growing gym chain, my business is to promote health. One might wonder why I would care so much about Big Soda’s influence on our diet when CrossFit is about fitness. But all the exercise in the world will not save our kids if they are drowning in sugar.

The consumption of sugary drinks has doubled in the United States over the past three decades. Meanwhile, diabetes rates have also doubled – 21 million Americans have been diagnosed – and more than one-third of adults and nearly one-fifth of children are obese. The cost: billions of dollars and too many lives.

In CrossFit’s home state of California, 60 percent of adults and 40 percent of children are overweight or obese, and one in seven adults has diabetes. An astounding 41 percent of California adults have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

In January, the state Senate had the chance to help stem this crisis by passing Senate Bill 203 to require warning labels on sugary beverages. This legislation wouldn’t stop Californians from buying soda, but it would better inform them about what they are buying. What’s more, it would send a message to Big Soda that Californians are getting wise to the role of sugary drinks in making us sick.

But despite falling just one vote short of passage in the Senate Health Committee last year, the same committee opted to keep SB 203 in limbo this year. Instead of debating the bill’s merits, legislators capitulated to Big Soda lobbyists, even though 78 percent of Californians support warning labels.

Big Soda is rich and powerful. The industry has gone so far as to pay the so-called exercise sciences community to drum up research that denies that sodas are largely to blame for the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Some organizations have recently decided they don’t want to be beholden to Big Soda. The University of Colorado has announced it would return a $1 million gift from Coke to establish an advocacy group to play down the link between soda and obesity. Other venerable organizations have also cut ties with Coke, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Cardiology.

In the war against Big Soda, these organizations have taken the initial steps that should have been taken by the Senate Health Committee. But SB 203 is just one battle. It’s time to start a new trend line: one that doesn’t indicate rising obesity and diabetes rates but decreasing rates of sugar-driven illness.

Greg Glassman is CEO and founder of CrossFit, which has 930 affiliate gyms in California. He can be contacted at