Youths Demand Truth About Dangers of Sugary Drinks

Just one 12-ounce soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar -- more than 3 times the recommended maximum for kids.

The soda tax wars have subsided in the San Francisco Bay Area but the negative health effects of sugary drink consumption in our most vulnerable populations remain. Staggeringly, almost one-quarter of teens today have pre-diabetes – double the rate of just 10 years ago. One in three youth born in the U.S. after the year 2000 will get type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes (1 in 2 young people of color) along with some or all of its major health consequences including stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputations.

A major cause of this epidemic is the consumption of sugary drinks.Just one 12-ounce soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar — more than the recommended daily maximum for adults and more than 3 times the recommended maximum for kids. Studies show that drinking just one sugary drink a day can lead to increased risk of diabetes, tooth decay and other health problems.

Sugary drinks are already the number one source of added calories in teens’ diets, yet the beverage industry is still targeting youth of color as their future growth market. Joe Tripodi, Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer for the Coca-Cola Company, has publicly presented an aggressive plan that’s using “precision marketing that targets young people, mostly in Latino and African-American communities in the United States and developing countries abroad” to consume more sugary drinks.  The other major sugary drinks companies, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper, are executing similar marketing strategies.

Like the tobacco industry which used Joe Camel to lure kids, soda companies use cartoon characters like Coke’s cuddly polar bears to appeal to their youngest targets. Tens of millions more dollars are paid to celebrities such as LeBron James, Beyonce and Katy Perry through endorsement deals to push soda consumption. Sugary drink companies spend more than $28 million a year on marketing campaigns specifically targeting youth of color. 

Bay Area youth from the communities hardest-hit by the health consequences precipitated by drinking sugary drinks are now talking back to the beverage industry with the Open Truth campaign, which features a series of powerful videos and ads with two simple demands: that the sugary drinks industry start telling the truth about the negative health impacts of their products, and that it stop targeting youth to drink them. These youth are calling out the sugary drink industry for putting profits above public health, and sending a clear message that they refuse to be played by the industry’s aggressive marketing at the expense of their health.

As The Bigger Picture poet José Vadi says in his poem, “The Corner”:  “How much longer must we lose the battle before we start the war against diabetes here?” This is a life-and-death struggle for public health, with young people caught in the crosshairs at the prime of their lives. The youth targeted by sugary drink companies are the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents due to preventable chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, unless we do something about it. 

Find out how you can help at opentruthnow.org.

Sarah Fine is Director of The Bigger Picture and Project Director of the Health Communication Program at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital

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