CSPI Calls on FDA to Require Health Warnings on Sodas

New "Liquid Candy" Data: Teens Guzzling More Soft Drinks than Ever Before

July 13, 2005

Teenage boys who drink carbonated or non-carbonated soft drinks consume an average of three 12-ounce cans per day, and girls more than two cans, according to a new analysis of 1999-2002 government data. Teens who drink soft drinks get nearly 15 percent of their total calories from those drinks. Although adults seem to be turning to diet soda, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that the data show teenagers are actually drinking more high-calorie soft drinks than ever-and less diet soda than in years past-despite growing concerns about obesity.

"Just as the soaring rates of obesity have shocked Americans, so should the increasing consumption by teenagers of one of the causes of obesity," CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. "What was once a rare treat in a small serving is now served up morning, noon, and night, virtually everywhere Americans happen to be. How did a solution of high-fructose corn syrup, water, and artificial flavors come to be the default beverage?"

In a petition filed today with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), CSPI asked the agency to require a series of rotating health notices on containers of all non-diet soft drinks-carbonated and non-carbonated-containing more than 13 grams of refined sugars per 12 ounces. (The typical 12-ounce soda contains 40 grams.) CSPI said that those messages could include:

The U.S. Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay, and other health problems.

To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water.

Drinking soft drinks instead of milk or calcium-fortified beverages may increase your risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis).

CSPI also said that caffeinated drinks should bear a notice that reads "This drink contains x grams of caffeine, which is a mildly addictive stimulant drug. Not appropriate for children."

"It is obvious to physicians who treat obese children that the extra 200, 300, or 400 empty calories kids get from soft drinks contribute to weight gain," said Dr. Caroline M. Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. "If you want to stop the epidemic of childhood obesity, curbing soda consumption is the place to start. Health messages on labels would certainly help parents and teens be aware of the risks."

In 2004, soda companies produced 37 gallons of carbonated non-diet soda-providing about 60,000 empty calories-for every man, woman, and child in the United States, according to Liquid Candy, a CSPI report first issued in 1998 and re-released in updated form today. As high as that is, industry data show that per capita production of carbonated soda has dropped 7 percent since 1998. And because many adults have switched to diet soda, production of non-diet soda has declined 12 percent-the biggest decrease ever. Nevertheless, despite that decline in overall production, soda consumption in kids has increased from the 1970s to the 2000s, as have their rates of obesity. Obesity has doubled in kids, and tripled in teens. Though the correlation is striking, recent studies have provided even more direct evidence implicating increased soda consumption with weight gain.

CSPI's new data show that one out of every 10 boys consumes 66 ounces-equivalent to five and a half 12-ounce cans, or about 800 calories-per day. One out of every 20 boys consumes the equivalent of 7 cans per day, or about 1,000 calories. The amount of refined sugars that soda-drinking teens get from soda exceeds the government's recommendations for their sugar consumption from all foods.

"Soda is bad not only for what is provides kids, but for what it takes away," said Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!. That group recently lobbied successfully for legislation banning soda and other junk foods from schools only to see it vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell. "Hardly any kids are getting enough calcium, vitamins, fiber, vegetables, or fruit. The more soda you drink, the less of those you get. If school systems spent half as much time trying to get more fruits and vegetables into schools as they did trying to keep soda contracts, our kids would be much better off."

Overweight or obese teens are increasingly at risk for type-2 diabetes, once called "adult-onset" diabetes and once rare in kids. And the decreased calcium intake that may accompany increased soda consumption can put people, particularly women, at greater risk for broken bones and osteoporosis.

CSPI's petition is supported by the American Dental Hygienists Association, the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Center for Health Education, and others. It is also supported by leading scientists and nutrition experts, including Gladys Block of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health; George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University; Brian Burt of the University of Michigan School of Public Health; JoAnn Manson of Harvard Medical School; and Marion Nestle of New York University.

Besides health messages on labels, CSPI recommends requiring calorie labeling of beverages on chain restaurant menus and menu boards, and stopping soda sales in schools. CSPI also says that states and local governments that levy small taxes on soda or other junk foods should consider earmarking those revenues for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent-per-can tax on soda would raise $3 billion annually-almost one thousand times as much money as the federal government spends promoting consumption of fruits and vegetables.


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