Cities, CSPI, & Health Groups Announce Major New Campaign to Reduce Soda Consumption
"Life's Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks," Say Health Officials
Reducing the consumption of soda and other sugary drinks will be the focus of a new campaign to reduce diet-related disease announced today by health departments in several major cities as well as the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and other groups.
The campaign, Life’s Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks, will seek to decrease average consumption of sugary drinks to roughly 3 cans per person per week by 2020. Health officials in Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Seattle say that reducing soda consumption is one of their top strategies for reducing rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. All of those cities, plus 110 local and national health organizations, have embraced the Life’s Sweeter campaign.
Sugary drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet and account for half of all added sugars consumed. And unlike any other food or beverage, only sugary drinks have been shown to have a causal role in promoting obesity: Each additional sugary drink consumed per day, according to one study, increases the likelihood that a child will become obese by about 60 percent. A reason that sugary drinks are conducive to obesity is that the calories in beverages aren’t as satiating as solid foods. The American Heart Association recommends that people limit their intake of sugary drinks to about 450 calories per week, or about three 12-ounce cans. Average consumption is now more than twice that.
“Life’s Sweeter’s goal is to broaden the battle against sugary drinks from health experts to civic organizations, youth groups, civil rights groups, and others,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D. “The enormous health and economic benefits that would result from drinking less ‘liquid candy’ will be supported by a broad cross-section of America. Not since the anti-tobacco campaigns has there been a product so worthy of a national health campaign.”
The campaign’s web site, fewersugarydrinks.org, invites individuals and families to take the Life’s Sweeter challenge to drink fewer or no sugary drinks. In addition, the campaign is encouraging employers, hospitals, and government agencies to adopt policies that would reduce soda consumption. Besides carbonated soda, the campaign targets fruit-flavored beverages with little or no juice, sweetened iced teas, lemonades, energy drinks, and so-called sports drinks such as Gatorade.
“Campaigns like Life’s Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks and our own local efforts will help raise awareness of the harmful consequences of consuming too many sugary drinks, which add empty calories to our diets, inches to our waistlines, and risks to our health,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of Public Health and Health Officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Many big cities are already campaigning to reduce soda consumption. In New York City, for instance, officials have run hard-hitting ad campaigns connecting soda to weight gain, and highlighting the sugar content of soft drinks. Similar ads have been run in Seattle and Philadelphia. In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino barred sugar-sweetened beverages from vending machines and concession stands on city property. Officials in San Antonio and San Francisco have similarly rid vending machines of high-calorie drinks.
“Soda, sports drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages account for up to 10 percent of all calories consumed in the U.S. diet, and are known to be major contributors to obesity. Reducing our intake of these drinks can help reduce the incidence of preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, arthritis, heart attacks, and stroke,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Here in Boston, we are creating an environment that makes the healthier choice the easier choice, whether it’s in schools, worksites, or other places in the community.”
“With new scientific evidence suggesting that drinking more than one sugar-sweetened beverage per day raises the risk of high blood pressure, it’s imperative that we do more to help communities kick the soda habit,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., vice chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and the Bickford Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont. “We are proud to support the Life’s Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks campaign to help Americans make smarter beverage choices to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and improve overall health.”
The beverage industry produces the equivalent of more than nine cans of sugary drinks per person per week, though some of that is wasted. Meanwhile, people who participate in food consumption surveys, such as that used in a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control, acknowledge consuming just over six cans per week. Because people typically understate consumption, especially of unhealthy foods, actual consumption is somewhere between six and nine. Those averages include the 50 percent of people that do not drink any sugary drinks on a given day.
Research, branding, creative development, and messaging for the Life’s Sweeter campaign were conducted by the advocacy marketing firm Interlex, a national agency with extensive experience in public health and behavior change initiatives.
“We believe that research-based campaigns are more effective at driving behavior change,” said Rudy Ruiz, CEO of Interlex. “This is the only campaign of this kind that has been tested nationally with general and multicultural audiences.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is urging cities, states, and health groups to consider using Food Day on October 24 to introduce other policies aimed at reducing junk food consumption in favor of healthy, sustainable food.