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Health powerhouses call for widespread soda taxes, warnings

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Two powerful influencers of children’s health policy have called on state and local jurisdictions to discourage youngsters’ consumption of sugary soft drinks by levying surtaxes and mandating health warnings on menus—measures steadfastly opposed by the restaurant industry.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also jointly recommended federal and state curbs on marketing sugary drinks to children, along with efforts at all levels of government to make healthier drinks the default choice in bundled meal deals. Some jurisdictions already prohibit quick-service chains from including a sugary drink in a kids meal unless parents request it.

Calls similar to the AHA and AAP’s recommendations have been sounded by health advocates in the past. Yet few of those organizations can boast the influence and recognition of the AHA and the AAP. 

The joint recommendation notes that some of the efforts, particularly the surtax, echo successful attempts to curb cigarette smoking. 

The call for action cited a report that soft drink consumption in Berkeley, Calif., fell 9.6% after the city tacked a surcharge onto the price of sugary beverages, and the purchase of alternatives such as water and milk rose 3.5%. But it also acknowledged a second study that found minimal impact on behavior.

The restaurant industry has attempted to preempt curbs on advertising to children by voluntarily forgoing commercials during TV programs aimed at children, among other steps. But the AHA and AAP asserted that “stronger measures are needed.”

The groups admitted that banning commercials or setting regulations on commercials’ content would be a political quagmire. But they concluded in their recommendation that other forms of discouragement are available to lawmakers. The report specifically mentioned disallowing companies to write off the expense of commercials as a business expense. 

Health advocates have long cited sugary beverages as major contributors to obesity in children. Many restaurant chains have voluntarily addressed those concerns by adding sugarless or other diet beverages to their menus. 

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