SACRAMENTO - Sen. Bill Monning's efforts to slap a warning label on soft drinks and other sugary beverages cleared its first legislative test Wednesday.
Borrowing a tactic used on alcohol and cigarettes, the Carmel Democrat wants Californians to see a safety warning when they pick up a soda pop telling them sweetened beverages can lead to a variety of diseases.
"The status quo is unacceptable," Monning said. "There is a public health epidemic in this state."
Studies have shown that sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to obesity and related ailments such as heart disease and diabetes, with Monning saying the problem is especially severe among the state's youth, where four in 10 are obese.
The bill supplants Monning's earlier, and unsuccessful, efforts to enact a tax on sweetened beverages. The bill would add the following words to beverage labels: "STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay."
Retailers would be required to post warnings wherever soda is sold or dispensed, with penalties of up to $500 for any violations. Like the earlier tax effort, the bill is drawing strong industry opposition from beverage, retailer and restaurant groups.
Dietician Lisa Katic, who testified on behalf of the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association, said the obesity epidemic is not driven by one food or beverage, and that warnings could make the problem worse. She pointed out that doctors are now beginning to realize that earlier warnings against eating fat were errant, and that diabetes is rising even as Americans reduce their caloric intake from soft drinks.
"The numbers just don't add up," Katic said.
Monning said peer-reviewed, scientific studies have all concluded that soda is a part of the problem, adding that soda doesn't have any nutritional value, unlike other unhealthy foods such as burgers or french fries. He said consumers have a right to know the links between soda and health problems.
"While people may know that drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage is not as healthy as eating your vegetables, what they don't know is how these products are linked to illness and chronic disease," Monning said.
The bill has support from doctors. Dr. Ashby Wolfe, representing the California Medical Association, said she spends so much time educating her Oakland patients about the health impacts of drinking soda that she cannot get to them all.
"We need to go upstream," Wolfe said. "We need to go beyond the medical office, looking at the cause of the problem and address it at its origins."
Xavier Morales, of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said Latinos are among the ethnic groups disproportionately impacted by diabetes. He said the impacts are profound, including dozens of diabetes-related amputations annually.
"It's an understatement to just call it an epidemic," Morales said.
©2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)
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