Citing concern about children’s health, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association are calling for sugary-drink taxes, limits on marketing to kids and teens, and more precise nutritional information on packaging.
In a policy statement released Monday, the two organizations also said they wanted to see healthy drinks, like water and milk, be the default beverages on kiddie menus and in vending machines, and they encouraged hospitals to serve as examples for how to limit or discourage consumption of sugary drinks.
“Excess consumption of added sugars, especially from sugary drinks, poses
a grave health threat to children and adolescents, disproportionately affecting
children of minority and low-income communities,” the 12-page paper begins.
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Consuming too much sugar, especially from sugary drinks – everything from soda and lemonade to sports and energy drinks – leads to obesity in children and teens. It also increases the risk for numerous health problems, including heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association.
“This is a call to policymakers to take action,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, lead author of the paper. “Enough is enough. We really need bigger changes, more changes.”
She also envisions a pilot program that tests what happens if the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, paired an incentive to eat more fruits and vegetables with not being able to use SNAP benefits to buy sugary drinks.
In addition, the policy statement discusses labels on the front of packaging that contain a warning about “the health harms of consumption of added sugars” and about the need for stronger rules to curb advertising sugary drinks on TV and the Internet and in places where kids go, like movie theaters, concerts and sporting events.
The manufacturers of these drinks disagree with the groups’ position. The trade group the American Beverage Association pointed out that 50 percent of all beverages sold contain no sugar and that they’re working to cut the amount of beverage calories consumed by 20 percent by 2025.
“There’s a better way to help reduce the amount of sugar consumers get from beverages and it includes putting parents in the driver’s seat to decide what’s best for their children,” said spokesman William Dermody Jr. “We are supporting parents who want less sugar in their kids’ diets by creating more drinks than ever before with less or no sugar as well as smaller portion sizes, and by backing efforts to make water, milk or 100 percent juice the default beverages restaurants serve with children’s meals.”
And he quoted research that found that obesity rates have risen at the same time soda consumption has declined.
“Beverages are not unique drivers of obesity rates in America,” Dermody added.
The statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association isn’t the first attack on beverage companies – often called Big Soda, a nod to Big Tobacco, where strategies linked to taxes, advertising and warning labels worked to curtail usage, as Muth’s paper highlights.
For example, Berkeley, California; and Seattle are among the American cities with taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. Last month, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont suggested they consider rolling out the first statewide beverage tax in the U.S.
For the first time in the U.S., more gallons of bottled water were sold than gallons of carbonated soft drinks in 2016, according the research and consulting company Beverage Marketing. It was 12.8 billion gallons and 12.4 billion gallons, respectively.
“Beverage companies are corporations,” said Muth, the lead author of the paper. “They don’t like initiatives that are going to worsen their bottom line,” she said. “They want kids and teens to get hooked on these drinks and be consumers for the long haul.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer