Health Group Calls for Soda Study, 'Action Plan'

Seeking comprehensive review along lines of Surgeon General's 1964 report on smoking

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. cancer lobby group is urging the U.S. Surgeon General to conduct a study of the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on consumer health, saying such drinks play major role in the nation's obesity crisis and require a U.S. action plan, reported Reuters.

In a letter to U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) on Tuesday called for a comprehensive review along the lines of the U.S. top doctor's landmark report on the dangers of smoking in 1964.

"An unbiased and comprehensive report on the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages could have a major impact on the public's consciousness and perhaps begin to change the direction of public behavior in their choices of food and drinks," the letter said.

"There seems to be a consensus about the problem and the cause, but what is lacking is an articulate, science-based and comprehensive national plan of action," it added.

Click here to view the full letter.

The role of sugar-sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, sports drinks, teas and juices in the U.S. diet has drawn fresh attention in the wake of a New York City plan announced in May that would limit the cup sizes for such beverages to 16 ounces. Other cities and towns are also looking at ways to curb consumption, citing the need to improve the public health and save money, said the report.

The beverage industry, which includes The Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo Inc and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc, has defended its products even as it has moved to sell other options that consumers see as healthier.

"We already have studies from the federal government and independent third parties that demonstrate soft drinks are not a unique or significant contributor to obesity," Karen Hanretty, a spokesperson for the American Beverage Association, told Reuters in response to the letter.

The U.S. Surgeon General's office plays a largely symbolic role, but is often looked to for direction on significant health issues, the news agency said. Department of Health & Human Services spokesperson Tara Broido gave no comment except to say that the agency had not yet received the letter.

Health experts and advocates say that while food and lack of exercise contribute to obesity, data show sugary drinks are a large part of the problem. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, in May called for more policies to reduce overconsumption of sugary drinks.

Dick Woodruff, vice President of federal affairs for the cancer society's advocacy arm, claimed that the group was not trying to demonize the beverage industry, but rather seeking an unbiased review of all available science.

Another advocacy group has also cited a more direct link between sodas and cancer.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a U.S. watchdog group, is seeking a ban on the use of chemically enhanced caramel coloring in soft drinks in favor of pure caramel from sugar. High levels of the chemical, called 4-methylimidazole or 4-MI, have been linked to cancer in animals.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have said they would reduce the chemical to avoid cancer warning labels on products sold in California, even though the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has said the drinks are safe.