The policy statement, entitled Public Policies to Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents, will be published in the April edition of Pediatrics. It was published online on Mar. 25.
The organizations say kids and teens drink gallons of sugary beverages every year, including sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, and soda. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends kids and teens consume fewer than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar, however, data shows kids and teens are currently consuming 17 percent of their calories from added sugar, nearly half of which comes from drinks alone.
“For children, the biggest source of added sugars often is not what they eat, it’s what they drink. 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. 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. We need broad public policy solutions to reduce children’s access to cheap sugary drinks,” said Natalie Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP, pediatrician and lead author of the policy statement.
The AAP and AHA make the following recommendations:
- Local, state and national policymakers should consider raising the price of sugary drinks, such as via an excise tax, along with an accompanying educational campaign. Tax revenues should go in part toward reducing health and socioeconomic disparities.
- Federal and state governments should support efforts to decrease sugary drink marketing to children and teens
- Healthy drinks such as water and milk should be the default beverages on children’s menus and in vending machines, and federal nutrition assistance programs should ensure access to healthy food and beverages and discourage consumption of sugary drinks
- Children, adolescents, and their families should have ready access to credible nutrition information, including on nutrition labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements
- Hospitals should serve as a model and establish policies to limit or discourage purchase of sugary drinks
Dr. Muth say teens who drink more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar are more likely to have abnormal cholesterol levels, including more “bad” LDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and lowed heart-protecting HDL cholesterol.
Beverage companies spend hundreds of millions each year to market to adults and children, with most teens seeing at least one ad for a sugary drink every day, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. In addition, kids from minority and low-income families are disproportionately harmed by cheap, easy-to-access sugary drinks.
“As a nation we have to say ‘no’ to the onslaught of marketing of sugary drinks to our children. We know what works to protect kids’ health and it’s time we put effective policies in place that bring down rates of sugary drink consumption just like we’ve done with tobacco,” said Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, professor emeritus of nutrition at University of Vermont and former chair of AHA’s nutrition committee.
AAP and AHA say excise taxes on sugary drinks have successfully reduced consumption rates in cities such as Berkeley, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Those cities have reinvested the revenue made from the 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, Washington: Revenue from the 1.75 cent-per-ounce tax funds programs that help low-income people buy healthy food, and subsidies to schools and childcare centers to increase servings of fruits and vegetables
- Other cities that have passed such taxes, including Albany and Oakland, California, as well as Boulder, Colorado 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. Every child deserves to grow up to be healthy. That means we need to do more to promote healthy beverage options, like water and milk. If we can dot his together, we’ll improve the long-term health of our nation’s children,” said Dr. Muth.