June 14, 2016

Robi Rawl’s Testimony in Favor of Sugary Drink Warning Labels in Baltimore

The following  testimony was delivered by Sugar Free Kids Maryland Executive Director Robi Rawl to the Baltimore City Health Committee on June 7, 2016 in an effort to pass legislation that would require warning labels for sugar-sweetened beverages on advertisements, restaurant menus, and in any point of sale where these products are sold in the city.

Sugar Free Kids Maryland is a diverse coalition of 130 organizations based or working in Baltimore City. It is the city and state’s foremost advocate working to protect Maryland children from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay so they can live long, healthy lives.

The evidence is overwhelming: sugary drinks are the single greatest contributor to chronic disease.   Our children are now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and are at a higher risk for developing early heart disease, tooth decay, kidney disease, and some cancers. This will be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents, unless important changes are made.

This bill is about transparency and education. It is about the consumer’s right to know.
With billions of dollars spent in marketing, consumers only hear one side of the story, the story the beverage industry wants them to hear. Everywhere in Baltimore, people are inundated with ads that claim that sports drinks are good for health, making them younger, more vibrant, and happier.

Warning labels on ads, menus, and points of purchase level the playing field.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea really how harmful they are. With a quick glance, people who live or work in Baltimore City will know whether advertised or offered drinks will cause them harm. With warning labels, Baltimoreans will finally be able to make educated decisions about their drink purchases.

The Beverage Industry agrees.
According to the American Beverage Association’s Let’s Clear It Up materials, the industry is fully supportive of educating consumers: “If we want to get serious about obesity, it starts with education – not laws and regulation. People can decide for themselves what to eat and drink.” Letsclearitup.org

Why sugary drinks? Why not put warning labels on candies and cookies?
Sugar in its liquid form is a unique problem. The body absorbs it directly into the bloodstream in 30 minutes. By comparison, a Berger cookie or Wockenfuss candy takes hours to digest. Liquid sugar, absorbed so quickly, overwhelms the liver, forcing it to convert the sugar into fat. This is how just one serving of a sugary drink per day leads to diabetes, heart disease and other serious and costly problems.

Soft drink sales are down, aren’t they?
This is not the whole story. Soda sales have not slowed down in low-income communities, as they have in wealthier communities. Sales of other sugary drinks – sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas and sweetened juices – are rising in all communities.