soda warning labelSweetened soft drinks are the single largest contributor of calories to the American diet and consumers will benefit from health warnings on soda bottles and cans, according to an advocacy group that is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require new labeling messages.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, together with several health organizations, state agencies, and prominent scientists and nutrition experts, sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, reviving a comprehensive petition the group filed to the agency in 2005. The letter urges regulators to use their authority to raise public awareness of the hazards of excessive consumption of all beverages with more than 1.1 grams per ounce of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or other added caloric sweeteners.

"A warning label would not solve the obesity problem, but it would be a simple, inexpensive way to remind consumers of key facts when they are considering buying a major cause of the problem," CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement.

In its original petition, the CSPI laid out the key reasons for soft drinks' continued popularity: aside from ubiquitous advertising and availability, the industry has steadily increased container sizes, while keeping prices low. For instance, in the 1950s, Coca-Cola's 6.5-ounce glass bottle was the standard serving, which later grew into a 12-ounce can, then a 20-ounce plastic bottle, and finally, a gargantuan 64-ounce Double Gulp bucket sold at 7-Eleven stores. The Double Gulp serving has 163 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of 625 calories or about one-third of the recommended daily intake, according to diet and nutrition wiki website FatSecret.

Sugar-sweetened beverages have been directly linked to obesity, coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and dental cavities. A recent study cited in CSPI's letter also links each extra soft drink consumed per day to a 60% increased risk of overweight children. In addition, the watchdog group estimates that about a fifth of children as young as 1 drink soda, at an average of seven ounces per day; the average 12- to 19-year-old male drinks about 28.5 ounces daily.

"To date, despite the urgent need to inform consumers of the hazards of [sugary drinks], the FDA has not taken action on that petition," the letter to the FDA said.

"A comprehensive effort to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks would be one of the single most important things that government could do to reduce obesity in children and adults," Jacobson also noted in a statement.

Some of the health messages proposed in the letter include: "The U.S. Government recommends that you drink fewer sugary drinks to prevent weight gain, tooth decay, heart disease, and diabetes"; "Drinking too many sugary drinks can promote diabetes and heart disease"; "For better health, the U.S. Government recommends that you limit your consumption of sugary drinks"; and "This drink contains 250 calories. Consider switching to water."

Signers include the American Public Health Association; the California Center for Public Health Advocacy; Shape up America!; and the Trust for America's Health. A number of state health departments have also signed on to the letter, including the New York State Department of Health, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the El Paso, Texas, Department of Public Health.

CSPI's latest effort to discourage soda consumption through federally mandated health warnings on labels comes after the group released a report last year proposing that Congress levy a federal excise tax on carbonated and other artificially sweetened beverages. As Walletpop reported then, a soda tax may also help raise cash for rising health-care costs, which include nearly $147 billion a year on medical expenditures related to obesity. While there's no federal response to CSPI's proposal to date, more than two dozen states already impose special taxes on beverages with added sugar.

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