Whether you drink one occasionally or have a three can a day habit, soft drinks have been an ingrained part of American culture for over 120 years. Considering that Dr. Pepper first hit the shelves of general stores in 1885, and was joined by Coca-Cola the following year, few products have enjoyed the kind of longevity and popularity as soft drinks.
However, despite their place in American culture, soft drinks have come under an intense amount of scrutiny recently. A National Institute of Health study published earlier this year found that individuals who consumed at least five cans of soda a day were 30 percent more likely to suffer from depression than individuals who don’t drink soda.
Another study from early 2013, conducted by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research, found that individuals who consumed at least one can of soda a week increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 33 percent.
The link health experts have recently started to uncover between soda consumption and poor health is just one of the reasons why New York mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines last summer for banning the purchase of sodas in sizes larger than 20 ounces.
Now health experts are asking that lawmakers take even more dramatic measures when it comes to the production of soft drinks.
A Call for Regulation
The consumer advocacy watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest has issued a petition that describes the added sugar found in soft drinks as a health hazard that needs to be lowered.
Co-signed by a number of health advocacy organizations, professional societies, prominent scientists, and state and county public health officials, the petition calls for the Food and Drug Administration to establish regulations on the levels of sugar that can be added to soft drinks. Among the many types of added sugars that find their way into soft drinks include high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and sucrose.
Artificially sweetened beverages account for the largest source of added sugar in American diets, with many people consuming multiple bottles a day.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently recommends that people eat or drink fewer than eight teaspoons of added sugars a day. Yet despite that recommendation, the average American consumes around 18 teaspoons of sugar a day, accounting for 15 percent of their daily calorie intake. Just one 20-ounce bottle of non-diet soda contains roughly 16 teaspoons of sugar from high-fructose corn syrup.
The 54-page petition cites the growing body of scientific evidence that links to soda consumption to a variety of health concerns such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Individuals who consume large numbers of sodas a day also added extra calories to their diet, which tends that take the place of foods richer in nutrients. This becomes especially troublesome when children start consuming large numbers of sodas, which has been linked to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S.
Currently, the FDA classifies added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup as “generally recognized as safe.” This designation means an ingredient is considered safe to consume at levels people tend to eat or drink the ingredient. However, in its petition, the CSPI argues that newly discovered evidence would suggest that added sugars are not safe for consumption at the current levels.
The CSPI has also asked the FDA to require food manufacturers to clearly label a separate “added sugar” category on the packaging and to encourage manufacturers to voluntarily lower the amount of added sugars their products contain. The petition also asked the FDA to start a public health campaign to warn consumers about the dangers of excess sugar consumption.
While some companies, such as Pepsi, have already launched healthier beverages, no indication exists whether this is an isolated attempt to appeal to a neglected market or a shift in practice for major soda producers.
The FDA should make a determination on the petition later this year.