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PHI’s Islas: Pass State Bill Requiring Warning Labels on Sugary Beverages

In a Fresno Bee op-ed, PHI's Genoveva Islas and a co-author urge California legislators to pass Senate Bill 1000, the Beverage Warning Label Act, which requires this warning on all sugar-sweetened beverages: "Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay." The authors highlight a recent study that found 31% of hospitalized Central Valley residents in 2011 had type 2 diabetes – and that 42.5% of hospitalized Latinos had the disease. 

To help combat this disease, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program urge our state legislators to pass SB 1000: The Beverage Warning Label Act.

Chronic disease most certainly causes pain and sadness. It’s also expensive. The study points out that for each hospitalization of a diabetic patient, the bill ends up $2,200 higher than it would for someone without the disease, even if the individual isn’t in the hospital due to diabetes-related complications. In 2011, these additional charges added $179.5 million to medical bills across the Valley.

Although diabetes may not have been the initial reason for a hospitalization, the disproportionate share of patients with higher bills related to their disease status highlights the impact that diabetes is having on California’s health care costs. The fact that 75% of this specialized care is paid through Medicare and Medi-Cal is also important as Californians consider the budget.

Type 2 diabetes comes with a long list of complications, including blindness, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, amputations and premature death. In the last 10 years alone, diabetes cases in California have increased by 35%.

Research predicts that half of all Latino and African-American children born since 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetimes. Unless we make this issue a priority immediately, the proportion of our state’s resources required to treat diabetes and its complications will continue to consume ever greater proportions of our budget — and families will continue to suffer.

Fortunately, we know that most Type 2 diabetes cases are preventable. Efforts to educate families on the importance of healthy eating and exercise as a means to lower the risk of chronic disease abound. Yet, new research shows that even with exercise and a decent diet, some products contribute to chronic disease more quickly than others.

Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), for example, add an inordinate number of calories to our daily dietary intake and impact our bodies differently from, say, a candy bar. When you consume candy, your body uses energy to process and digest the bar.

But what about liquid sugar in soda form? There’s no fiber to break down or food to digest. Instead, the sweetener is readily absorbed and carried into our liver. Over time this can lead to fatty liver, elevated levels of cholesterol, obesity and more. What many families don’t know is that these calories are processed very differently from other calories and they tend to be more harmful to our health. This is why the public needs to be warned.

Some say drinking liquid sugar is fine as long as you exercise regularly. But when faced with the reality that it would take a 200-pound adult about 45 minutes to walk off one can of soda, and that it would take a child up to three hours to burn off these added calories, it becomes obvious that “just exercising” isn’t enough.

Diabetes is a complex issue. Physical activity efforts are showing good outcomes and much progress has been made on the nutrition education side. But as new research continues to point to the disproportionate impact that SSBs have on diabetes and obesity, public health advocates must adjust our strategy.

The beverage industry has been relentless in crushing anything that highlights the fact that consuming their products can be harmful. In fact, their media campaigns, which not coincidentally target youths of color, intentionally link their products with a happy and exciting life. Individuals who have lost a limb, or a family member, know better. This is why we need a warning label.


Authors Xavier Morales, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and Genoveva Islas, MPH, is the executive director for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, a project of Public Health Institute. The authors can be reached at: and

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Originally published by Fresno Bee

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