Supermarkets, Pharmacies Urged to Shift From Soda Toward No- and Low-calorie Beverages

Local Health Departments & Advocacy Groups Seek to Discuss Placement of and Advertising for Sugar Drinks

April 10, 2013

Supermarkets and pharmacies could help reduce Americans' rates of obesity and diabetes by increasing their marketing of no- or low-calorie alternatives to soda and other sugar drinks. Local public health officials in Boston, El Paso, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle and King County, and elsewhere today are calling on those retailers to discuss a variety of means of promoting healthier beverages.

"With supermarkets selling the lion's share of sugar drinks, your company and others clearly have an opportunity to promote your customers' health by encouraging customers to switch from high-calorie to low-calorie drinks," wrote the officials, as well as the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and other advocacy groups, to the chief executive officers of 14 top supermarket chains. "Possibilities include limiting sugar drinks from check-out aisles, posting signs in the soft-drink aisle to encourage people to switch to drinks with few or no calories, featuring primarily non- and low-sugar soft drinks at end caps and in 'spectacular' displays, giving greater prominence to lower-calorie drinks in your advertising, and adjusting prices to encourage the purchase of non- and low-cal drinks."

Similar letters were sent to the CEOs of CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens pharmacy chains.

About one-third of children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and a growing mountain of epidemiological evidence links soda consumption with weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Clinical trials show that people who are assigned to drink sugar beverages gain more weight than those assigned to drink sugar-free beverages. Yet soda and other sugar drinks are still the single largest source of calories in the diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

"Cities and counties are beginning to do their part by improving the beverage options in vending machines on city property, for instance," said James Krieger, a physician who leads the chronic-disease-control efforts for Public Health—Seattle & King County, the local health department serving Seattle and surrounding King County. "Our hope is that supermarkets and pharmacies seize this as a win-win opportunity that improves their customers' health and simply shifts chains' profits from disease-promoting drinks to healthier drinks."

"Supermarkets and pharmacies play a major role in Americans' diets and with that comes enormous responsibility," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "It's not enough to put the entire onus on soda companies on the one hand, and individuals on the other. Retailers should exercise their own sense of corporate social responsibility to help reduce soda-related diseases."


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