You may have heard that San Francisco lawmakers have mandated that warning labels be put on certain ads for sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. The San Francisco City Council claimed that these discriminatory labels will make people healthier. This ordinance comes just seven months after San Francisco voters rejected a proposal to raise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
When are lawmakers going learn that not only will these discriminatory proposals fail to make people healthier, but that they could actually be harmful to public health? Dr. Roger Clemens, a former member of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, writes in a commentary on PublicCEO.com, "Community leaders adopted bad public policy that distracts from the real culprits behind disease. By using their voices on such fragmentary approaches, legislators are merely contributing to the never-ending noise."
Clemens, who is currently affiliated with the USC School of Pharmacy, points out that Americans consumed 37 percent less added sugars from sugar-sweetened beverages from 1999 to 2008 according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. During the same period, prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) almost doubled.
These numbers just don’t add up. If beverages uniquely cause diabetes as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors alleged, then wouldn’t the likely conclusion be that diabetes would have gone down as sugar intake from soft drinks went down as well? But that did not happen. Why? Because beverages are not a driver of diabetes or any other disease. So why did the San Francisco Board of Supervisors flout the totality of science when it came to public health?
"It can be tempting to find easy ways to seemingly chip away at the problems we face," Clemens concludes.
Yes, it is easier for lawmakers and public health activists to target one nutrient, food or beverage as the culprit to America’s health woes. But by doing so they are misleading their constituents – in this case San Franciscans – about a complex and serious public health issue. That is helping no one and it sure won’t turn the tide on obesity.