Liquid Candy Under Fire

CSPI calls on FDA to require health warnings on soft drinks

WASHINGTON -- The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) wants the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to put warning labels on soft drinks akin to the Surgeon General's warning on cigarettes.

In a petition filed with the FDA, the watchdog group asked the agency to require a series of rotating health notices on containers of all nondiet soft drinkscarbonated and noncarbonatedcontaining more than 13 grams of refined sugars per 12 oz. (The typical 12-oz. soda contains 40 grams.)

CSPI said the rotating messages could [image-nocss] include:

The U.S. Government recommends that you drink less (nondiet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay and other health problems. To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water. Drinking soft drinks instead of milk or calcium-fortified beverages may increase your risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis).

CSPI also said that caffeinated drinks should bear a notice that reads "This drink contains x grams of caffeine, which is a mildly addictive stimulant drug. Not appropriate for children."

Teenage boys who drink carbonated or noncarbonated soft drinks consume an average of three 12-oz. cans per day, and girls drink more than two cans, according to the group's new analysis of 1999-2002 government data. Teens who drink soft drinks get nearly 15% of their total calories from those drinks. Although adults seem to be turning to diet soda, CSPI said the data show teenagers are actually drinking more high-calorie soft drinks than everand less diet soda than in years pastdespite growing concerns about obesity.

"Just as the soaring rates of obesity have shocked Americans, so should the increasing consumption by teenagers of one of the causes of obesity," CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. "What was once a rare treat in a small serving is now served up morning, noon, and night, virtually everywhere Americans happen to be. How did a solution of high-fructose corn syrup, water, and artificial flavors come to be the default beverage?"

In 2004, soda companies produced 37 gallons of carbonated non-diet soda-providing about 60,000 empty calories-for every man, woman and child in the United States, according to the CSPI report, first issued in 1998. Industry data show that per-capita production of carbonated soda has dropped 7% since 1998. And because many adults have switched to diet soda, production of nondiet soda has declined 12%the biggest decrease ever. Nevertheless, despite that decline in overall production, soda consumption in kids has increased from the 1970s to the 2000s, as have their rates of obesity. Obesity has doubled in kids, and tripled in teens.

CSPI's new data show that one out of every 10 boys consumes 66 oz.equivalent to five and a half 12-oz. cans, or about 800 calories per day. One out of every 20 boys consumes the equivalent of 7 cans per day, or about 1,000 calories. The amount of refined sugars that soda-drinking teens get from soda exceeds the government's recommendations for their sugar consumption from all foods.

CSPI's petition is supported by the American Dental Hygienists Association, the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Center for Health Education, and others. It is also supported by scientists and nutrition experts, including Gladys Block of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health; George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University; Brian Burt of the University of Michigan School of Public Health; JoAnn Manson of Harvard Medical School; and Marion Nestle of New York University.

Besides health messages on labels, CSPI recommended requiring calorie labeling of beverages on chain restaurant menus and menu boards, and stopping soda sales in schools. CSPI also said states and local governments that levy small taxes on soda or other junk foods should consider earmarking those revenues for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent-per-can tax on soda would raise $3 billion annuallyalmost 1,000 times as much money as the federal government spends promoting consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Click here to view CSPI's petition to the FDA.

Click here to view CSPI's report.

Click here to viewJacobson's appearance on CBS's The Early Show with Harry Smith.