Health Warnings Urged for Soda & Other Sugary Drinks

Health Groups, Local Agencies, and Nutrition Experts Support CSPI’s Call

January 3, 2011

WASHINGTON—The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people drink less soda and other sugary drinks. To help implement that advice, today a number of health groups, state and municipal agencies, and prominent nutrition experts are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require health notices where they will most help consumers—right on the bottle or can. In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the health advocates said that the agency should use its authority to require a rotating series of messages on labels of sugar-sweetened drinks, warning about the risks of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.

“In light of the overwhelming evidence linking soft drinks to serious diseases, consumers deserve to know—and soft drink labels should disclose—those health risks,” the organizations and experts wrote.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest formally petitioned the FDA in 2005 to require health messages on soda labels. While the petition has languished, CSPI hopes that the Obama Administration, which has placed a high priority on reducing childhood obesity, will look more favorably on the petition than the Bush-era FDA did. Soda pop and other sugary drinks are now the single largest contributor of calories to the diet, providing as much as 10 to 15 percent of teens’ caloric intake, according to one study cited in today’s letter.

“Our leading source of calories is a nutritionally worthless beverage that promotes obesity, diabetes, and other debilitating and expensive conditions,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “A warning label would not solve the obesity problem, but it would be a simple, inexpensive way to remind consumers of key facts when they are considering buying a major cause of the problem. A comprehensive effort to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks would be one of the single most important things that government could do to reduce obesity in children and adults.”

Signers of today’s letter include the American Public Health Association, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, Shape Up America!, and the Trust for America’s Health. Notably, a number of health departments also signed on to the letter, including the New York State Department of Health, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and the El Paso, TX, Department of Public Health.

Some of the health messages proposed in the letter include:

  • The U.S. Government recommends that you drink fewer sugary drinks to prevent weight gain, tooth decay, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Drinking too many sugary drinks can promote diabetes and heart disease.
  • For better health, the U.S. Government recommends that you limit your consumption of sugary drinks.
  • This drink contains 250 calories. Consider switching to water.

Even toddlers are drinking fruit drinks and soda pop, according to CSPI. The group estimates that one- and two-year-olds are drinking an average of seven ounces per day. Older boys drink even more. CSPI says that the average 12- to 19-year-old male drinks about 28.5 ounces—or 350 calories’ worth—each day.

Individual cosigners on the letter include Henry Blackburn of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; George Bray of the Pennington Biological Research Center at Louisiana State University; Carlos Camargo, JoAnn Manson, and Eric Rimm from Harvard Medical School; Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Walter C. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.


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