THE BLOG
04/11/2014 03:59 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2014

Big Soda Misinforms California's Senators

On April 9, the Health Committee of the California State Senate passed Senate Bill 1000 (Monning), the Soda Warning Label Bill by a vote of 5-2. The bill would require sugary drinks sold in California to be labeled with the warning:

STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

The discussion was quite interesting.

Senator Bill Monning stated the need for the bill:

Daily consumption of sugary drinks increases a persons risk for diabetes by 26 percent ... A warning label has been shown to be effective in curbing consumption of tobacco and has reduced alcohol consumption among pregnant women.

The senator then introduced a panel of experts testifying in favor.

Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, explained the latest research:

The overwhelming science is now showing that liquid sugar is a unique driver in today's skyrocketing diabetes and obesity epidemic.

Dr. Ashley Wolfe, of the California Medical Society, shared just how devastating the health impacts of sugary drinks are for Californians.

I see more and more patients losing limbs or going blind every year, and many of them drink a soda a day unaware just how hazardous the habit is to their health. Diabetes rates have skyrocketed by over 600 percent over the past generation and liquid sugar is uniquely responsible for this epidemic.

Diabetes and obesity are causing profound suffering in California's communities of color, which are the largest consumers of sugary drinks. Darcel Lee, president and CEO of the California Black Health Network, told the senators:

Unless these twin epidemics are reversed, one in three children born after 2000, and nearly half of Latino and African-American children, will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.

Dr. Xavier Morales, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, referred to sugary drinks as "liquid diabetes" and accused the beverage industry of trying to "hook our children" on these unhealthy products.

The witnesses for Big Soda, however, seemed to see the situation quite differently.

Mr. Bob Ackermann, of the California and Nevada Soft Drink Association, assured the senators and those of us in the audience that:

We agree that obesity is a serious and complex issue, however it is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption uniquely contributes to certain health conditions like obesity and diabetes.

Mr. Ackermann was followed by Big Soda's scientific expert, Ms. Lisa Katic. Ms. Katic described herself as a registered dietician with 25 years of experience in food and nutrition policy. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Nutrition. Ms. Katic concurred with Mr. Ackermann, stating:

Obesity and related diseases like diabetes have multiple contributing factors. They are not, however, driven by consumption of any one food or beverage.

So which is it? Are Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Wolfe correct that sugary drinks are a unique driver in the diabetes and obesity epidemics, or are Mr. Ackermann and Ms. Katic correct in asserting that diabetes and obesity and related illnesses are not driven by sugary beverage consumption?

The science is clear. The doctors are correct. Sugary drink consumption is linked to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, fatty liver disease and heart disease deaths. The biological mechanisms are now well understood.

A brief primer:

Sugary drink consumption leads to rapid absorption of two sugars, glucose and fructose. The glucose causes a blood sugar (glucose) spike, which causes the pancreas to go into overdrive to produce enough insulin to match the huge influx of glucose. The fructose goes exclusively to the liver, where much of it is converted to unhealthy fats, some of which pack our livers, leading to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. The unhealthy fats lead to obesity and also plug up the heart's arteries leading to heart attacks.

Here is the kicker: You don't need to get fat for this to happen. The sugary beverages can cause diabetes and heart attacks even in those not overweight.

Perhaps Big Soda has inadvertently given us the very best reason to support SB 1000, the Soda Warning Label Bill. Either Mr. Ackermann and Ms. Katek are unaware of the science implicating sugary drinks in Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, cancer and obesity, or they are intentionally misleading the senators and the public.

Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. If a representative of the beverage industry and a registered dietician are unaware of the science linking sugary drinks to these chronic illnesses, can we expect the average busy consumer to understand the harm these beverages cause?

As Dr. Harold Goldstein testified:

People know that drinking a soda is not as healthy as eating broccoli. They don't know that these products are actually making them and their families sick.

Californians have a right to know about the health impacts of the products in the marketplace. Senate Bill 1000, the Soda Warning Label Bill preserves consumer freedom and provides the vital information we all need to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families.

Hopefully, California will lead the way for similar initiatives throughout the country and the world.