See THIS is why soda needs a warning label. Or an IQ test.
“Thirty eight grams of sugar?!” my son yelled as he swatted the drink out of his brother’s hand. “I will not let this demon death drink of high-fructose horrors will not claim you!!!” And with that he did some air karate, some pirouettes, and a bow before chucking the thing in the trash. We make quite the impression at the mall food court, let me tell you.
(Evidence #2: Same mall, different night. My children, some of their friends and I all sit down next to a table full of hipster teenagers. Hipster boy says, “Whoa how many are there?” Just as I’m answering “eight” Son #3 spontaneously goes from firmly seated on his bench to fallen on the floor, head first. So I corrected myself, “Seven.” Hipster stares at my kid shrimping around his feet and says, “Whoa do they just, like, do that sometimes?” And of course I answer, “Yes, just ask your mother.”)
Anyhow. Excessive use of drama not withstanding, I was entertained by my kid “saving” his brother from high blood sugar. (His brother was not entertained as he’d purchased the drink with his own money. Don’t worry, we fixed it.) Because apparently my son isn’t the only one who feels compelled to warn other people about the nutritional void that are fizzy drinks. In fact, the whole state of California may soon take a page out of my son’s book as last week a law was proposed that all sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in California would be required to carry warning labels. The bill’s backers cite the war on obesity, writing,
Under the bill, all beverage containers with added sweeteners that have 75 calories or more per 12 ounces must carry a label that reads: State of California Safety Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. The requirement would effectively apply to any sugar-sweetened bottled and canned sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, vitamin water and iced teas.
While I admire the sentiment – I have no love for soda pop, never drink it, don’t miss it and wouldn’t care if it was banned all together (not trying to be high and mighty here as heaven knows I love sugar in all its non-liquid forms) – I see several immediate problems with this.
1. Nobody reads labels on soda pop. Unless you’re me. And even then you only need to read them once because they’re all basically the same concoction of water, 15 kinds of sugar and colors and flavorings. Sometimes there are fun bonuses like caffeine or vitamins or artificial sweeteners.
2. Does anyone really think soda isn’t bad for them? You’d have to be more clueless than a Miley Cyrus concert to have missed the memo that pop isn’t great for you. People don’t drink it because they think it’s health food, they drink it because it’s delicious. When cigarettes first got their surgeon general’s warning labels in 1966 I think many people legitimately didn’t know how bad tobacco was for them. Not so with soda.
3. The problem isn’t the soda, it’s the sugar (or sugar substitute). The bill says that “a growing body of research has identified sugary drinks as the biggest contributors to added, empty calories in the American diet, and as a major culprit in a range of costly health problems associated with being overweight” and while I don’t doubt such studies exist but is soda really the biggest problem? From my reading of the research, obesity and overweight are rather complicated conditions with many factors and causes of which sugar is generally the most commonly cited culprit. So are these bill makers just trying to make a point by singling out soda or should we expect labels on candy, sports drinks, Pez dispensers, Katy Perry and other things that are sweet enough to make your teeth hurt?
(On second thought, maybe we should have a warning label on Katy Perry – I can’t stop singing Dark Horse but have you seen that video? HAVE YOU?? It makes Kanye and Kim’s video look sane. She sets it in “Memphis, Egypt”! And yet I giggle every time that dog comes on the screen. And when she eats the Flaming Hot Cheetos. And when she turns a dude into a diamond grill. And makes a pyramid out of Twinkies. Someone help me.)
4. It’s not a controlled substance. The SFGate reports that “if passed, caloric drinks would join tobacco and alcohol products in carrying health warning labels in California, the nation’s most populous state and a legislative trend-setter.” First off, California? I’d like you to meet New York. They did the whole trying to ban soda through legislation thing first and it didn’t go so well. You two should discuss this over coffee (black, of course). Second, while I personally do think sugar can be as addicting as other substances like drugs and alcohol, the truth is that the effects of such addiction are different and it’s not a controlled substance.
5. Doesn’t the “dental decay” piece seem kind of antithetical? This isn’t really a criticism but seriously, after obesity and diabetes, we’re going to try and scare people with an ouchie tooth? Although I think it would be more ironic were the labeling to become law here in Colorado where we just legalized pot. There’s a pop-pot joke in here that I’m too tired to find.
All of that said, there are some pros to this bill. “This is about education,” said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which supports the measure along with the California Medical Association and other state health groups. (Although if we’re talking about education, how about taking soda and sports drinks out of schools?) I’m all for more education on health. Of course then you get into the tricky question of who gets to decide what “healthy” is.
In addition, some studies have shown that “There is clear evidence that tobacco package health warnings increase consumers’ knowledge about the health consequences of tobacco use” and that the warning messages “contribute to changing consumers’ attitudes towards tobacco use as well as changing consumers’ behaviour.” So if the warnings are effective for tobacco perhaps they will be useful for soda as well? Also, printing a label on a can doesn’t seem to be particularly difficult, costly or invasive so what could it hurt? (Other than the soda companies’ bottom lines?)
What do you think about the proposed labels – good for reminding people of the long-term health consequences of a Coke or just another interference of the nanny state? Would a “junk food” tax on soda and other goodies be better in your opinion?