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Prevention Institute

February 14, 2013

Add your voice to the media conversation in support of healthy beverage policy

Yesterday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the agency to take action on sugar-sweetened beverages. The petition is strongly aligned with work underway in many California communities to limit sugar-sweetened beverage marketing, and it calls on the FDA to:
  • Ensure that the content of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in beverages is limited to safe levels.
  • Revise the “Sugars” line on Nutrition Facts labels to capture “added sugars.”
  • Set targets to decrease added sugars in other foods.  
  • Conduct a public education campaign to encourage decreased consumption of added sugars.
Ten health departments, 20 health and consumer organizations, and 41 leading health professionals have signed a letter in support of the petition, including Strategic Alliance Steering Committee organizations California Center for Public Health Advocacy, ChangeLab Solutions and Prevention Institute.

In a flurry of news coverage, big players in the beverage industry are already registering strong opposition to the proposal.  We’ve seen them do this before – and we can’t let these companies drown out the facts. As Strategic Alliance members, we encourage you to add your voices to the conversation in support of strong beverage policies and environments that protect health -- not industry profits.

Here are some of the state and national news stories:

  • San Jose Mercury News: Anti-obesity advocates push for sugar limits in drinks
    Strong coverage from Strategic Alliance Rapid Response Journalism awardee Lisa Baertlein, who calls attention to the beverage industry’s history of opposing policies designed to protect public health: In 2006, after a long battle, Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo Inc and Dr. Pepper Snapper Group Inc surrendered to pressure and agreed to remove high-calorie sodas from U.S. public schools. Front-of-package calorie labels followed. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's first-of-its-kind ban on super-sized sugary drinks in restaurants and other eateries is scheduled to start in March. Industry is challenging the ban, calling it an unconstitutional overreach that burdens small businesses and infringes upon personal liberty. The soft drink industry has a strong record of defeating high-profile efforts to tax sugary beverages, and two separate ballot measures recently fizzled in California.

  • Los Angeles Times: Nutrition group petitions for federal regulation of sugary drinks
    This article includes excerpts from the American Beverage Association's press statement, which aims to frame the industry as part of the solution and negate the importance of the petition. [T]he industry has increased the options for consumers. It noted that about 45% of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased have no calories, and that the average calories per serving have declined 23% since 1998. […] “Everyone has a role to play in reducing obesity levels – a fact completely ignored in this petition,” the trade group said in its statement.

  • Sacramento Bee: Consumer group asks FDA to limit sweeteners in soft drinks
    While quoting industry opposition to the proposal, this article also draws attention to the growing momentum for sugar-sweetened beverage policy in California and across the country: The petition follows recent actions by health advocates to curb the consumption of sugary drinks. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, for instance, is moving forward with a measure that would ban the sale of large soft drinks in his city. Other municipalities across the country have voted on ballot measures that would impose taxes on the sale of sugary drinks. In California, voters in El Monte last fall turned down a measure that would have taxed soft drinks - a measure that was vehemently opposed by beverage makers such as PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co.

  • USA Today: Consumer group wants limits on added sugars in beverages
    USA Today quotes the Corn Refiners Association, which argues that the ‘complexity’ of food and activity-related chronic diseases is an argument against government regulation: J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, said in a statement: "As we continue to debate the root causes of our nation's obesity issue, we need to rely on science and facts, not look for quick fixes that draw focus away from developing real solutions to a complex problem. All foods can fit into a healthy diet if consumed in moderation combined with physical activity."

Here are some ways you can take action:

  • Respond to the coverage above or related news stories that you come across with an online comment or letter to the editor (See Strategic Alliance's tips for penning a letter to the editor or op-ed).
  • Tap into the opportunities this recent media coverage has provided. Use this timely hook to pitch a story to a reporter or write an op-ed highlighting your efforts to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and promote healthy food environments.
  • Connect with Strategic Alliance on Twitter (@Strat_Alliance) to share your efforts with us and get more updates on this issue.

Here are some angles to cover in your response:

  • Public health has a long, proud history of using policy to protect health and individuals. Industry does not have carte blanche to sell products that make us ill. Policies that regulate tobacco, seatbelts, and lead in paint have successfully built on this same principle of consumer protection. Such laws were controversial when first introduced, but today, they’re a given. With evidence mounting that sugar-sweetened beverages are detrimental to health, CSPI’s petition to the FDA is a sensible step in the right direction.
  • The research affirms it: addressing sugary beverages makes sense. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that sugar-sweetened beverages are among the largest contributors to the chronic disease epidemic. These beverages accounted for 43% of the increase in daily calories consumed between 1977 and 2001, and continue to be the largest source of added sugar in the average American’s diet.
  • Industry needs to stop putting up barriers to health efforts. Sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing 22 percent of empty calories consumed by children and teens, and soda is the number one source of calories in teens’ diets. Food and beverage companies say they want to be part of the solution. If they care about the health of kids and families, and not just their bottom line, they will support these science-based standards. For those companies who really do want to be part of the solution, it's time to walk the talk.

Did you submit a comment or get something published? We want to hear about it! Connect with us on Twitter (@strat_alliance) or send us an e-mail to share your efforts.

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