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San Francisco Approves Warning Labels on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Ads

San Francisco Approves Warning Labels on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Ads

In recent years, public health advocates have ramped up efforts to highlight the health consequences of consuming soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Today, those efforts yielded some success as San Francisco supervisors approved an ordinance that requires advertisements for sugary drinks to include warning labels about the products’ adverse health side effects.

The ordinance applies to all drinks, including soda and energy drinks, that include 25 or more calories from sweeteners per 12 ounces. Advertising methods impacted include billboards, buses, and taxis within the city limits, but not newspapers and the internet. Milk and 100% natural fruit juice are exempted from the ordinance.

The supervisors behind the decision noted that inaction could not be justified in the face of a rising public health crisis:

The label for billboards and other ads would read: "WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco…”

"These are not harmless products that taste good," said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the soda warning proposal. "These are products that are making people sick and we need to take action."

The movement to alert consumers of the health dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages has been gaining steam in the Bay Area for some time. Last fall, voters in Berkeley approved a tax on the beverages in hopes of reducing consumption.

Statewide efforts have also been ongoing, but have met more opposition. Earlier this year, AB 1357 (Bloom), which would have instituted a fee on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages, did not make it out of policy committee. SB 203 (Monning), which would have required warning labels on sugary drinks, met the same fate.

However, those statewide efforts will resume in the coming years and will be buoyed by local successes like the one in San Francisco today.

Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages would have a tremendous health impact in California, particularly among communities of color. In our brief, Not So Sweet: Confronting the Health Crisis from Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in California, we found that reducing the intake of sugary drinks by 10% would prevent 12,000 new cases of diabetes and save $318 million in health care costs over a decade.

The tide seems to be turning in the public health debate over sugar sweetened beverages, and hopefully San Francisco’s decision is a harbinger of things to come.

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