AP NEWS

Pro-active Approach Needed to Curb Sugary Drinks

March 31, 2019

It’s no mystery that carbonated sodas and supposedly healthy juice drinks deliver a sugary one-two punch to the detriment of those who consume them, primarily youngsters through the teen years.

Next to the sedentary lifestyle exacerbated by the internet, they’re the main reason for skyrocketing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes among children in this country.

So better late than never, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association have issued a series of recommendations aimed at reversing this disconcerting trend.

They include raising prices of sugary drinks through an excise tax, with revenues dedicated “in part toward reducing health and socioeconomic disparities” -- whatever that means.

It seems lawmakers on Beacon Hill also have jumped on the anti-soft drinks bandwagon.

They’ve put forth two bills that target kids’ consumption of sugary beverages, in line with the Academy of Pediatrics/Heart Association proposals.

According to the State House News Service, Sen. Jason Lewis, Rep. Kay Khan and Rep. Jon Santiago have filed legislation that would impose an excise tax on sugary drinks, with the tax increasing along with the sugar content.

Under the bills (S1709, H2529), beverages with 7.5 grams of sugar or less per 12 fluid ounces would not be taxed, but those with 30 grams of sugar or more per 12 fluid ounces would be taxed at a rate of 2 cents per ounce. Drinks that fall in between those two sugar levels would be taxed 1 cent per ounce.

It’s estimated those legislative steps would generate $280 million to $320 million in annual revenue.

The same three lawmakers have also filed bills (S1291, H1947) that would take aim at reducing youngsters’ access and exposure to sugary drinks.

They would ban the marketing of sugary drinks in schools and require advertisements for sugary drinks to carry a label warning of the higher incidences of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay that accompany their consumption.

It would also require that the “default beverage” in any chain restaurant’s children’s meal be water, sparkling water, flavored water, 100 percent juice with no added sweeteners, or milk. Customers could still request an alternative beverage.

While well-intentioned, making parents taking the path of least resistance or their sugar-fueled kids pay more for that extra glucose may generate millions, but it disproportionately impacts a portion of the population that can least afford that added expenditure.

That’s because the list of items poor and low-income Massachusetts families who receive cash benefits from the Department of Transitional Assistance can’t use that EBT card for includes everything from alcoholic beverages to recreational marijuana, but not sugar-saturated soft drinks.

Until soft drinks join that list, this legislation not only won’t help the most financially and physically vulnerable among us, it might actually worsen their condition.

Taking a more pro-active approach contained in the other set of bills -- banning the marketing of sugary drinks in our public schools and requiring they carry a health warning label -- would actually level that “socioeconomic disparity” playing field with a one-message-fits-all campaign.

That’s because sugar doesn’t discriminate; its adverse effects are an equal-opportunity health risk.