The idea that sugary soft drinks are bad for all of us, and especially for children, is nothing new. Even diet soda is widely viewed as a key contributor to obesity and other detrimental conditions. More recent evidence shows those Gatorade-type sports drinks aren’t any better, and many juice products are less actual fruit juice than corn syrup and water.
But with the incidence of childhood obesity continuing to grow, physicians groups are stepping up their call for help in reducing the amount of such drinks children and teens consume. Monday, a joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association recommended governments at all levels take action to make it harder to sell such drinks to children.
The report published in the journal Pediatrics calls for an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages; regulations that require added sugars content to be included on nutrition labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements; making healthy beverages, like milk and water, the default on children’s menus; and federal nutrition assistance programs to ensure access to healthy foods and discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. It further asks for legislation that would limit advertisements for sugary drinks that are aimed at children. And it asks hospitals to enact policies to limit or disincentivize purchasing sugary drinks.
“… (P)ediatricians are diagnosing type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and high cholesterol in our young patients. These are health problems that we rarely saw in children in the past. These are health problems associated with high sugar intake,” said the lead author, Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and dietician. She noted efforts by doctors to educate patients on the relationship between sugary drinks and health problems have not been enough to change consumption habits.
Previous attempts to curtail the intake of sugary drinks have met with resistance, not only from the fast food and beverage industries that stand to lose money, but from the ‘don’t tell us what to do” crowd as well. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s famous sugary drink cap, limiting the sale of high-sugar-content drinks to 16 ounces or less, was shot down in court before it was ever enforced, as an overreach by the city’s board of health.
Elsewhere, the idea of levying a tax on such drinks has had more success. Berkeley, Calif., enacted an excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in 2014. The city saw a 52 percent drop in consumption of those drinks in three years, according to a study by the University of California, Berkeley. San Francisco and Oakland have, more recently, followed suit.
Yet the state assembly passed a law in 2018 banning any new sugary drink taxes, perhaps an indication many lawmakers don’t really want to push this particular issue. We suspect it will take more time, and more studies showing the direct link between sugar consumption and ill health, to persuade national lawmakers to act, or those in many states. The idea may catch on in some communities, though we’d note at least in the Granite State, those communities have no authority to take the actions the doctors’ groups are suggesting.
But nothing is keeping parents from acting. The evidence is mounting and there are few stronger imperatives for parents than to ensure their children’s health. It can be hard to go against the flow with an eye toward the long-term effects, but given the stakes, it certainly seems a worthwhile effort.