Health Officials Urge F.D.A. Action on Soft Drinks -

Health Officials Urge F.D.A. Action on Soft Drinks A group of health advocates and public health officials from major cities around the country are asking the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of caloric sweeteners in sodas and other beverages, arguing that the scientific consensus is that the level of added sugars in those products is unsafe.

The group, led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and including public health departments from Boston to Los Angeles, noted that the F.D.A. had pledged in 1982 and 1988 to reassess the safety of sweeteners if consumption increased or if new scientific research indicated that things like high fructose corn syrup and sucrose were a public health hazard.

“Both of those conditions have been met,” the center said in a news release on Wednesday, and that “obligates the F.D.A. to act.”

The big beverage makers are aware of the growing pressure on them to either reduce the amount of sweeteners in their products or find an alternative to such sugars. PepsiCo, for example, has used stevia in a product called Trop 50 to reduce caloric sweeteners in juice, while Coca-Cola recently went on the offensive with advertisements that sought to underscore its concern about obesity.

“There’s an important conversation going on about obesity, and we want to be part of the solution,” Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s chief executive said on Tuesday during a call with analysts to discuss the company’s earnings. “Together with partners in civil society, our own industry and other businesses, I am personally committed to leveraging all our resources to lead and make a difference here.”

He said the company was investing in developing new sweeteners, products and packaging to promote better health.

Sodas and sugary drinks are the biggest source of calories in the American diet, adding 300 to 400 calories to the average consumer’s total daily caloric intake. At least one-quarter of the total calories consumed each day by roughly one-fifth of children aged 12 to 18 come from added sugars, according to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control.

The centers noted that a typical 20-ounce bottle of soda contains an amount of high fructose corn syrup equivalent to roughly 16 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons and men no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day.

“If one were trying to ensure high rates of obesity, diabetes or heart disease in a population, one would feed the population large doses of sugary drinks,” Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in Wednesday’s news release. “The evidence is so strong that it is essential that the F.D.A. use its authority to make sugary drinks safer.”

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