U.S. public health advocates launch anti-soda campaign

More than half of Americans drink too many sugary drinks and the problem is worst among minorities, the poor and the young, according to a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture shot down a pilot proposal to ban soda from New York food stamp purchases. The department felt the program, proposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would be too complicated to enforce.

You can check it here  the best public health advocates, who note that sugary drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet—were disappointed. The beverage industry and anti-hunger officials chalked up a victory.

So with anti-soda legislative efforts still facing a rough road, today advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest announced a new strategy for reducing sugary beverage consumption. It’s called “Life’s Sweeter With Fewer Sugary Drinks.” OK, not the catchiest name in the world but it gets its point across.

The goal: to “decrease consumption of soda and sugary drinks by about two-thirds—closer to the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 3 cans per person per week,” CSPI says.

But the campaign’s larger stated goal is to reduce the “risks of overweight and obesity, which promote diabetesheart disease, stroke, and many other health problems. Reducing the consumption of soda and other sugary drinks would be a major public health victory and would help reduce health care costs for all levels of government,” CSPI said in a statement.

In response to today’s CDC report, the American Beverage Association countered that “sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving health issues like obesity and diabetes as stated in the best online reviews in online sites like askhealthnews.com.  In fact, recently published data from CDC researchers show that sugar-sweetened beverages play a declining role in the American diet, even as obesity is increasing.”

While it is true that Americans have decreased their sugary beverage consumption in the last decade, that change has coincided with, not an increase, but a leveling off of American obesityrates during the same general time period, according to the most reliable CDC statistics.

Still, the reduction has not been drastic enough for CPSI and its partners across the country. And they aim to use education, media and policy changes to shrink consumption further.

They campaign plans to take the “battle against sugary drinks from health experts to civic organizations, youth groups, civil rights groups, and others,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.  “The enormous health and economic benefits that would result from drinking less ‘liquid candy’ will be supported by a broad cross-section of America.  Not since the anti-tobacco campaigns has there been a product so worthy of a national health campaign.”

Later this month, the Los Angeles County Health Department says it will launch a campaign with the slogan “You wouldn’t eat 22 packets of sugar. So why would you drink it?”

In Boston, sugary beverage sales have recently been eliminated on city property and at least one hospital. In 2004 they were eliminated in all Boston Public Schools which coincided with a drop in soda consumption among local public school students that was not seen elsewhere in the country, according to a recent study.

“In Boston we are launching an extensive media campaign to target parents of young children and the theme is that your children are sweet enough,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “We want to let parents in particular know that sugar sweetened beverages are not a healthy option for themselves and their children.”

CSPI says that it will make an special effort to reach low-income and minority groups who both consume more sugary beverages and suffer disproportionately from obesity related disease.

“The general effort is to reposition soft drinks and other sugary beverages,” said Jacobson during a conference call Wednesday. “Kids have grown up with them as parts of Happy Meals at McDonalds, in the refrigerator and at Disney World. But we want to reposition them as an occasional treat. So when a kid asks for a soda, for example, friends and neighbors might think it’s strange because it’s just not good for your health.”

When asked if “Life’s Sweeter” organizers were comfortable with consumers switching to diet drinks over sugared drinks, Jacobson offered a mixed response.

“Diet drinks–with questionable sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin) and often containing caffeine, synthetic dyes and caramel coloring, and phosphoric acid–are hardly ideal drinks, but they are still better than non-diet drinks because they don’t contain 10 or more teaspoons of sugar per serving.”