July 13, 2005

Group Calls for Health Warnings on Soft Drinks

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. consumer group on Wednesday called for cigarette-style warnings on soft drinks to alert consumers that too much of the sugary beverages can make them fat and cause other health problems.

People who overindulge in soft drinks are also more likely to develop diabetes and have decaying teeth, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said in a petition to the Food and Drug Administration.

The warnings are especially necessary to help counter the growing number of youth who drink soda, said the center, which has previously put out reports publicizing the health-threatening qualities of other popular foods such as ice cream and movie popcorn.

"Parents and health officials need to recognize soft drinks for what they are -- liquid candy -- and do everything they can to return those beverages to their former role as an occasional treat," CSPI officials wrote in a related report.

Studies show teenage boys drink about 1.5 cans of soda a day on average compared to 1 can for teenage girls, according to the group.

Some suggested warnings included: "To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider switching to diet sodas or water" and "Drinking too many (non-diet) soft drinks contributes to weight gain."

Soft drinks with more than 10 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving should also carry warnings that say it is "a mildly addictive stimulant drug" that is "not appropriate for children," CSPI added.

The group, which has also been fighting the prevalence of soda-vending machines in U.S. schools, said new labels are needed to help counter aggressive marketing by the soda industry.

The American Beverage Association says soft drinks can be part of a healthy diet and help keep people hydrated, citing data from the American Dietetic Association.

"The beverage industry recognizes the need for children and adults to consume a wide variety of beverages, including milk, water, juices and sport drinks. And yes, there is room in that mix for soft drinks," the industry group says on its Web site.

Some soft drink makers have also recently introduced smaller-sized bottles and cans.

The three top beverage companies, Coca-Cola Co. , PepsiCo Inc. and Cadbury Schweppes Plc , own the 10 most popular carbonated drinks and account for about 90 percent of the industry, according to market report Beverage Digest.