Recently, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest hosted the first National Soda Summit, bringing together researchers, advocates and policymakers from across the country to discuss what soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are doing to our nation’s health. Here at the New England Alliance for Children’s Health we have been strong advocates of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes as a means to reduce childhood obesity and increase revenues for child health programs.

Even with all the research and advocacy we’ve done on the topic and all the attention it’s gotten recently with New York’s bold move on portion control, I was shocked at how much there was to learn about soda. For instance, did you know that Coca-Cola once advertised a 16 oz. bottle as serving a family of three? That’s the same size that caused such an uproar when New York suggested it as the maximum serving for one.

The conference also presented new research on the links between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity as well as the addictive nature of sugar. Although obesity is a multi-factoral, issue many of the researchers stressed that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages function as an add-on to people’s daily calorie intake. Not only do people who drink soda not adjust their food intake to make up for the extra calories, but research also shows they are more apt to eat unhealthily, causing excess weight gain.

As troubling as these facts are for adults, they are even more troubling for children. The U.S. is in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic that has caused major shifts in child health: 23 percent of adolescents are now diabetic or pre-diabetic, 90 percent of whom are suffering from what, until recently, was considered adult onset diabetes.

The Summit also revealed the disturbing racial targeting of ads and promotions for sugar-sweetened beverages. African American communities, with already sky-high rates of obesity related illness such as heart disease and diabetes, are being bombarded by ads for products that will increase obesity. The average black teen sees 90 percent more ads for sugar-sweetened beverages than the average white teen.

The summit was not all bad news though. Many policymakers and advocates discussed what can be done to restrict such advertising, increase awareness, reduce consumption, and tax sugar-sweetened beverages so that the products helping to cause the problem can help to pay for the solutions. Seeing the great work being done in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston and elsewhere was inspiring and it gave me renewed energy (not just a temporary sugar high!) to push for taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in New England and across the country. I hope this blog inspires you to look at your next sugary drink a little differently and to join with advocates in your community to “kick the can”.

— Nicole Tambouret Project Director New England Alliance for Children’s Health