5 Pediatrician-Approved Policies to Limit Kids’ Sugary Drinks (Including Soda Taxes)

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Latino toddler kid with sugury drink obesity
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In a joint policy statement today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) endorsed five public health measures—including excise taxes—to reduce kids’ consumption of sugary drinks.

The statement appears in the April 2019 issue of Pediatrics.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and teens consume fewer than 10% of calories from added sugars. But data show that they now consume 17% of their calories from added sugars—half of which come from sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and sodas.

Latino children consume more sugary drinks than their peers.

“On average, children are consuming over 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year. This is enough to fill a bathtub, and it doesn’t even include added sugars from food,” said pediatrician Dr. Natalie D. Muth, lead author of the policy statement. “As a pediatrician, I am concerned that these sweetened drinks pose real—and preventable—risks to our children’s health, including tooth decay, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.”

Here are the five recommended actions:

1. Soda Taxes

Local, state, and national policymakers should consider raising the price of sugary drinks, according to the AAP and AHA statement.

Excise taxes on sugary drinks have successfully reduced consumption in cities, including the nation’s first such tax in Berkeley, Calif., in 2014.

In Berkeley, Latino community groups stepped up to lead the charge.

With the tax in place, a 2017 study indicated that Berkeley residents are buying fewer sugary drinks and water sales are up 16%. According to a February 2019 report, the tax has spurred a 50% decline in sugary drink consumption.

“This positive impact is magnified by the fact that the revenue from the tax is being invested in health and wellness across the city,” said Nancy Brown of AHA in a statement.

Cities have reinvested the revenue generated by these taxes into community programs, such as:

  • San Francisco: Revenue from the 1 cent-per-ounce tax funds grants for preventive health services in low-income communities, and programs to improve school nutrition and oral health.
  • Seattle, Wash.: Revenue from the 1.75 cent-per-ounce tax funds programs that help low-income people buy healthy food, and subsidies to schools and child care centers to increase servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Other cities that have passed such taxes, including Albany and Oakland, Calif., as well as Boulder, Colo., are also funding public health prevention programs.

“Communities have started tackling this problem with creative solutions, showing that we can work together to make healthy options more available and less expensive to buy,” Dr. Muth said.

2. Decreased Marketing of Sugary Drinks

Federal and state governments should support efforts to decrease sugary drink marketing to children and teens, according to the AAP and AHA statement.

sugary drink pricing little girlBeverage companies spend millions in marketing to adults and children – $866 million in 2013.

Eight out of 10 food ads seen by Latino children on Spanish-language TV promote fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks, according to a report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Salud America!, and the Council on Black Health.

Targeting Latino and Black youth with unhealthy marketing contributes to disparities in obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.

“If the [food] industry really values these consumers, companies will take responsibility for advertising that encourages poor diet and related diseases,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. “They can start by eliminating the marketing of unhealthy products to Hispanic youth and families.”

You can frame junk food marketing as a health equity issue.

“If food and beverage companies are as committed to serving communities of color as they say they are, then they should align their practices with their promises by marketing only healthy products to children and youth,” according to the framing brief by Berkeley Media Studies Group.

3. Removing Sugary Drinks from Kid’s Menus

Healthy drinks such as water and milk should be the default beverages on children’s menus and in vending machines, according to the AAP and AHA statement.

In Baltimore, city leaders approved a bill in April 2018 that requires restaurants to remove sugary drinks from their kid’s menus.

water boy LatinoThe city is the largest American city to pass such legislation.

“We strongly believe this bill will help address the crisis facing Baltimore’s youngest residents with one in three school-aged Baltimore children unable to maintain a healthy weight, often leading to chronic disease,” said Shawn McIntosh of Sugar Free Kids Maryland.

4. Credible Nutrition Labeling on Sugary Drinks

Children, adolescents, and their families should have ready access to credible nutrition information, according to the AAP and AHA statement.

This extends to information on nutrition labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements.

Menu labeling, for example, can help Latino and all families make healthier eating choices through clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering.

5. Hospitals as Models for Healthier Drinks

Hospitals should serve as a model and establish policies to limit or discourage purchase of sugary drinks, according to the AAP and AHA statement.

For example, a Boston hospital removed its sugary drinks years ago.

“The hospital administration realized it was inconsistent that we were serving beverages with sugar that are such an obvious contributor to obesity rates,” said Bill Howland of Carney Hospital.

What Else Can We Do?

Reducing sugary drinks can improve Latino children’s health.

sugary drink pricing research infographic
Available in Spanish

Our Salud America! research review found several emerging solutions:

  • Raise the price of sugary drinks. A 10% increase in sugary drink prices can reduce consumption by up to 12.1%.
  • Reduce access to sugary drinks in childcare centers. Few early childcare centers report serving sugary drinks to kids ages 0-5. But increased regulation can reduce serving of sugary drinks and increase promotion of water.
  • Increase access to clean water. Mexican-American and lower-income kids consume less plain water than white kids. But when New York elementary and middle schools replaced vending machines with water jets, students’ likelihood of being overweight dropped more than 0.6 percentage points.

Salud America! also created an Action Pack to help school leaders push for Water Bottle Fountains in schools to boost access to water for Latino and all kids.

get a water bottle fountain for your school!

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