California Legislator Wants Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks

California State Senator Bill Monning

Most folks by now are aware of the specter that drinking too much of anything, especially a beverage packed with sugar, can quickly morph you into a Jabba the Hutt-like silhouette. A legislator in California wants to remind you via warning labels.

A bill introduced in Sacramento on Thursday, sponsored by State Senator Bill Monning, would require carbonated soft drinks and most other sugar-sweetened beverages sold in the state to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, according to reporter Sharon Bernstein of Reuters. The bill has been supported by several public health advocacy groups.

“The first proposal of its kind would put California, which banned soda and junk food from public schools in 2005, back in the vanguard of a growing national movement to curb the consumption of high-caloric beverages that medical experts say are largely to blame for an epidemic of childhood obesity,” Bernstein writes.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large serving sizes of sugar-sweetened beverages serve as the most similar high-profile example; however, several other scientists and think tanks have argued for similar measures. A number of researchers have pointed to consumption of carbonated soft drinks as one of the leading causes of the nation’s health problems. In 2009-10, approximately 36 percent of U.S. adults were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the food and beverage industry has played its part in denouncing the need for such legislation. CalBev, the state’s branch of the American Beverage Association, agreed that obesity is a serious issue, but downplayed the need for a bill that would mandate warning labels on sugary drinks.

“It is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain,” CalBev wrote in a statement. “In fact, only four percent of calories in the average American diet are derived directly from soda. According to government data, foods, not beverages, are the top source of sugars in the American diet.”

In the debate on the proposed bill, industry representatives said that it pushes forward the idea of California as a “nanny-state.” Monning defended the bill by comparing the warnings to those on tobacco and alcohol products. He also cited a growing body of research that links sugary drinks to health risks.

“When the science is this conclusive,” he said in the article, “the state of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers.”

One supporter of the bill shared an especially poignant example of why the bill makes sense for undereducated consumers.

“My own husband had to watch his father have, first his foot and then his leg amputated from diabetes,” Brenda Darcel Lee, a physician and the president and CEO of the California Black Health Network, said in the article.

If passed, the bill would require all beverages containing added sweeteners with 75 calories or more per 12 oz. to carry the following on its label: “State of California Safety Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

California has long faced proponents of warning labels and age restrictions for energy drinks, as well as proposals for soda taxes, but the bill proposed by Monning signals a new avenue for lawmakers.