The impact of soda intake on public health spawned major legislation last week. On May 31, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s Department of Health proposed a ban of sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts.
On its heels, the Center for Science in the Public Interest hosted a two-day “National Soda Summit” beginning Thursday in Washington, D.C., bringing together government officials, health practitioners, educators and advocates to address the health risks of sugary drinks.
“It’s a plague because we consume so much of it,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, who last year won APHA’s David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health. “But we’ve begun to see some welcome and historic changes in consumption.”
Jacobsen said that intake of Pepsi-Cola beverages has dropped 46 percent since 1998 and 31 percent for Coca-Cola products, while Americans have doubled their water consumption during time span.
The summit Thursday included calls for action to reduce the availability of soda in communities. Philadelphia Department of Public Health Director Giridhar Mallya discussed the changing of 220 city vending machines to remove sweet soft drinks and a proposed sugar-sweetened beverage tax of two cents per ounce. Boston Public Health Commission Director Anne McHugh promoted the city’s “Soda-Free Summer Challenge,” which offered prizes to participants who abstained from soft drinks in the summer of 2010, and credited Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s 2011 executive order requiring city departments to phase out the sale, advertising and promotion of sugary beverages.
In a keynote speech, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter championed a fight against major soda manufacturers. Nutter related a story of finding a 20-ounce cola in his office that contained 73 grams of sugar, which equates to roughly 24 packets.
Nutter also detailed the “Get Healthy Philly” campaign, which received funds from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, that emphasizes the impact of soda intake on obesity in the city. While supermarkets have continued to advertise and sell soft drinks at a high rate, Nutter objected to concerns that soda taxes will hurt the economy and the raise unemployment rate.
“Delivery trucks will still need drivers and packaging plants will still need workers, whether it is for 5,000 cases of soda or 5,000 cases of water or 5,000 cases of low-sugar or no-sugar products,” Nutter said. “People are going to be thirsty. No one is going to die of thirst in Philadelphia or anywhere in the United States.”