Big Soda Opposes Supervisors’ Sugary Beverage Warnings

A dietician representing the American Beverage Association was among the few opponents present this afternoon at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing on legislation that aims to educate consumers about the potential health problems associated with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and limit advertising and sale of such products on public property.

Lisa Katic, a registered dietician and a consultant for the American Beverage Association, testified against the legislation this afternoon, following a long list of medical and media professionals who championed the proposed legislation for its efforts at tackling the city’s high rate of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

The legislation, drafted by supervisors Malia Cohen, Scott Wiener and Eric Mar, would require health warnings on soda advertisements posted in San Francisco, ban soda advertisements on publicly-owned property and prohibit city spending on sodas and sugary beverages.

“This is round two of San Francisco versus big soda,” Mar said today, referring to the 2014 soda tax that failed at the ballot.

“This is a social justice issue,” Mar said, arguing that soda companies are targeting low-income, minority communities in the city.

Big Soda, represented by Katic today, argued that sugar-sweetened beverages are not the only contributor to poor health, and that sugary and fatty foods should not be excluded from the conversation.

Katic, who came to today’s hearing from her home state of Virginia, said she disagreed with Weiner’s proposed warning on advertisements for sugar-sweetened beverages, that 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.”

Katic said the warning label unfairly targets the beverage industry and ignores the bigger health issue at hand, which she said is access to nutritional guidance and lack of exercise in people’s routines.

Unlike the testimony provided today by a doctor who treats an increasing number of diabetic patients at San Francisco General Hospital, advocates from the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and a slew of other science and health care professionals who support the city’s intervention, Katic maintains, that “there are many causes of obesity and diabetes” and that scaring people is not the answer.

But the supervisors and numerous medical professionals maintained that diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and other related illnesses are at epidemic levels and that the city has a responsibility to educate and protect its citizens from the associated harms.

Katic, who declined to say how much she was being paid by the American Beverage Association for her consulting work or the percentage of her income she generates from that contract, said she doesn’t think warning labels will create the desired impact and that instead, legislators should focus on educating people about how many calories they need each day based on their activity level.

She said the government should generally discourage over-consumption, but she maintained that sugar-sweetened drinks are no greater a contributor than sugar sweetened foods.

Wiener compared the proposed warning on advertisements to the warnings currently in place on tobacco products and explained that it’s important the public know that sugar-sweetened drinks are a major contributor to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

The board approved the supervisors’ three amendments today and the legislation will next be voted on by the full Board of Supervisors.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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