It looks like the battles over legislative efforts to reduce consumption of soda and other beverages with added sugar is about to escalate.
Yesterday, during the second National Soda Summit in Washington, D.C., Rep. Laura DeLauro, D-Conn., announced that she is working on legislation to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, and hopes to introduce a bill "in a matter of weeks."
In her address, by video, DeLauro encouraged people to see the documentary "Fed Up," saying it "demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the biggest culprits in today's obesity and crises: Our food is being overloaded with added sugar."
She said that the average American consumes 23 teaspoons of sugar per day, or two-and-a-half to four times more than the maximum amounts recommended by the American Heart Association (six or nine teaspoons per day for women and men, respectively).
"This means not just obesity and diabetes, but high blood pressure, heart disease, gout and countless other health issues," she said. "Added sugar is pervasive and almost inescapable at the supermarket. And of course, many times, it's the sugary foods and drinks that are the easiest for families living on the edge of poverty to afford. When a two-liter cola is 99 cents and blueberries are over $3, something has gone very wrong.
"All too often, sugary foods or drinks with high-fructose corn syrup are cheaper as a direct result of government policies," she added. "It is long past time that we pass and support policies that work toward better health instead."
The two-day National Soda Summit was organized by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, with support from the American Heart Association, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the California Endowment and the Kresge Foundation.
Another speaker during the second day of the summit, from New York City's Department of Health, provided an update on that department's regulation that would limit sales of many sugar-sweetened beverages to portions of 16 ounces or fewer. That regulation was overturned by a state judge in March, and is now under review by the New York State Court of Appeals.
In addition, representatives from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy described a "Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Safety Warning Act" just passed by the California Senate, which would require a warning label on bottles and cans of sugar-sweetened drinks sold in the state that contain 75 calories or more per 12 fluid ounces.
Also, representatives from a Mexican consumer group described their successful campaign to impose a federal one-peso-per-liter (around 8 cents) tax on sugary soft drinks, which went into effect in January. In February, The Wall Street Journal reported that Coca-Cola told analysts that the entire beverage industry has been seeing 5% to 7% declines in sales volumes of sugar-added beverages in Mexico since the tax was implemented.
In the U.S., a number of state and city efforts to impose taxes or implement other policies intended to reduce consumption of sugary beverages have been defeated. Examples include tax proposals in Massachusetts and in Richmond and El Monte, California, and a 2012 proposal in Florida that would have restricted use of food stamps to buy sugary beverages and junk food.
However, proponents continue to introduce taxing and other proposals at the local and state levels, even as the beverage industry, convenience stores and other groups continue to fight such initiatives with major PR and lobbying efforts.
Opponents argue, in the words of the American Beverage Association, that taxes and restrictions or bans are "unpopular with voters, hurt businesses and won't do anything to address obesity." These groups maintain that anti-obesity efforts should be focused on education, and position taxes and other legislative efforts as intrusions on individuals' right to make their own choices.
Both sides cite studies and polls supporting their respective positions about the efficacy or lack thereof of regulations intended to curb consumption of sugary beverages and foods.
This week, NPR reported on a study, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, that supports the position of proponents of tax measures: The researchers found that a .04 cent-per-calorie tax -- equivalent to a 6-cent tax per 12-ounce can of regular cola -- would lead consumers to consume about 5,800 fewer calories from sugary drinks per year. NPR also reported that a recent Field Poll found 74% of California voters saying they would support efforts to warn consumers about the potential harms of sugary drinks.
Meanwhile, also this week, the ABA reported on a recent Rasmussen Reports poll that found that 63% of American adults oppose a ban on the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces, with just 19% favoring such regulations.
What's not in dispute is that consumption of carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) -- both the regular, sugar-containing varieties and diet varieties -- by U.S. consumers continues to decline. Given that reality, beverage companies' opposition to legislative efforts on the state and local fronts are likely to pale by comparison to their response to any proposed federal tax on beverages with added sugar.