Health & Fitness

Child Health Notebook: CA Legislature considers bills to curb sugar-sweetened drinks

Sugar sweetened drinks are pictured Friday August 23, 2019 in downtown Modesto, Calif. Consuming sugar-sweetened drinks increases chances for childhood obesity and tooth decay.
Sugar sweetened drinks are pictured Friday August 23, 2019 in downtown Modesto, Calif. Consuming sugar-sweetened drinks increases chances for childhood obesity and tooth decay.

The current session of the California Legislature is debating more than 50 bills related to children’s health, though not all are in the final stages.

Four bills likely heading for a vote are related to the marketing, labeling and selling of sugar-sweetened beverages. The overarching goal of these bills is to make an impact upon the health issues related to consuming excess sugar calories, leading to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

On average, an American adult drinks nearly 50 gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages, the equivalent of 39 pounds of extra sugar, every year.

About 40% of California kids, 2 to 11, and 62% of teens, 12 to 17, drink at least one soda every day.

Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages increases a child’s risk for obesity and dental problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children, affecting nearly 50% of California kids.

In Stanislaus County, one in three adults are obese, and nearly 44% of fifth-grade kids are overweight or obese, according to Dental disease is also a problem for county kids — causing nearly 6,000 emergency room visits last year, about three times higher than all of California kids.

Similar laws enacted in New York have been successful at decreasing consumption of sugary drinks by youth and adults.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the bills under review:

AB-0138: Sugar-sweetened (soda) beverage tax: This bill was introduced by Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and would add 2 cents per fluid ounce tax on sugary drinks, including soda. This is similar to taxes placed on tobacco products to deter use. The goal is to reduce consumption of sugary beverages to help prevent associated harmful health effects. If passed, the law would establish the California Community Health Fund to manage the funds for projects to diminish the “human and economic costs of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and dental disease in California.”

AB-0764: Soda: Ban on marketing/promotions: If passed, this bill would regulate promotion and marketing activities related to sugar-sweetened beverages. A beverage company would not be permitted to offer incentives of other financial support to distributors or retailers for the cost of special offers or promotions given to consumers for branded products of the company. As currently written, contracts between a beverage company, manufacturer, or distributor and a theme or amusement park, zoo, other attractions, or professional sports stadium that include non-food promotions, would be exempt.

Such promotional offers can make the price of sugary drink low, and often cheaper than options considered healthy, such as water or milk. The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Rob Bonta, D-Alameda.

AB-0765: Sugar Sweetened Beverages: Healthy Checkout: Assembly member Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, introduced this bill, which would prohibit the placement of sugar-sweetened beverages near the check-out counter and at the end caps of aisles in grocery stores and similar retail locations. Called the California Healthy Checkout Aisles for Healthy Families Act, the law would require stores (as defined in the bill) to have only specific beverages, such as milk and natural fruit and vegetable juice, in the checkout areas.

SB-0347: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: Warnings: This bill would establish the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, which would require any sugar-sweetened beverages in sealed containers sold in the state to have a safety warning and was introduced by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel. The warning would state: “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) may contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.”

The bill would also require a safety warning to be posted on the exterior of vending machines that sell a sugar-sweetened beverage.

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.