Sugary drinks may soon face stricter restrictions

Two leading Medical organisations have called for stricter regulations for sugary drinks marketed for children and young adults. The regulations could include enhanced taxing, warning labels and restrictions in advertising for young people, the spokespersons from the American Academy of Paediatrics and the American Heart Association explained this Monday. The reason behind this call for action is due to the increasing evidence of these drinks associated with obesity and chronic diseases.

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

The organizations have called these artificially sweetened drinks a “grave health threat to children and adolescents”. They have said that if their use is not restricted there could be an alarming rise in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and other diet related illnesses among young people exposed to these drinks. They explain that tens of thousands of premature deaths could be prevented and annual health care costs could be cut by billions of dollars if these drinks are regulated.

The team says in the recommendations that there should be stiffer taxing on these beverages and stricter rules against their advertising to the young population. Experts have speculated that these may face opposition from the billion dollar beverage industry. They have also called for public awareness campaigns in preventing inclusion of sugary drinks in diets of children and providing healthier diet choices. They have urged healthcare institutions and schools to stop hosting vending machines and stores that sell these drinks. The medical groups said, “As with the ban on tobacco, leadership by hospitals and health plans to eliminate the sale of sugary drinks can improve the health of their employees, increase public awareness about the contribution of sugary drinks to obesity, and thereby change social norms.”

The organizations call upon the American public to adhere to the dietary recommendations that are in place. These guidelines clearly say that added sugars should make up for less than 10 percent of the total calories consumed by kids and teenagers. At present the average added sugar consumed is 17 percent of the diet, they explain. The added sugars come from carbonated sodas, sports drinks and fruit flavoured drinks, say the experts. On the other hand 100 percent fruit juices do not contain added sugars but contain natural sugars.

Dr. Sheela Magge, a pediatric endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center was part of the team that drew up the new recommendations. She said, “Sugary drinks are empty calories and they are the low-hanging fruit in the fight against childhood obesity.” Dr. Natalie Muth, a Californian paediatrician and a lead author of the recommendations added, “For children, the biggest source of added sugars often is not what they eat, it's what they drink.” She said, “I’ve seen 2-year-olds with fatty liver disease and teenagers with Type 2 diabetes. These are diseases we used to see in their grandparents. It’s frustrating because as paediatricians we feel like we’re doing everything we can, but it’s hard to compete with a $800-million-a-year marketing strategy by the soda industry.”

Regarding taxes on sugary drinks, the organizations note that in U.S. cities including Berkeley, Calif., and Philadelphia, such taxes are already in place. Muth says that this strategy has worked in those regions to decrease the sugary drink consumption.
William Dermody, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association called the blaming of sugary drinks for these health conditions unfair. He said in a statement, “Today, 50 percent of all beverages sold contain zero sugar as we drive toward a goal of reducing beverage calories consumed by 20 percent by 2025…America’s beverage companies believe 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.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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