How Dental Health Advocates Are Fighting Big Sugar

Dental and public health advocates have formed a coalition to ensure the sugar industry stops targeting children in low-income communities with similar marketing techniques employed by so-called Big Tobacco.

When tobacco companies were barred from targeting children with cigarette marketing, several companies reportedly used their expertise in marketing flavored products to appeal to children by selling beverages loaded with sugar. According to a University of California, San Francisco study, tobacco companies captured kids attention by rebranding drinks, creating fun mascots and infusing drinks with child-tested flavors, which created consumer loyalty to junk food products and sugar-loaded drinks.

These rebranding efforts worked to sell kids on Hawaiian Punch (formerly owned by R.J. Reynolds), Kool Aid (formerly owned by Philip Morris), and ultimately contributed to the United States’ high numbers of childhood obesity. And, as oral health professionals know, the effects of Big Soda are seen in the office every day in the form of dental caries.

To help reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and ensure companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc do not target children, the California Medical Association, California Dental Association (CDA), public health advocates and health care providers have formed a coalition charged with sponsoring several pieces of legislation aimed at limiting the marketing of sugary, nutritionless drinks to low-income communities.

“There is overwhelming evidence of the link between obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and heart disease, and the consumption of sugary-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, energy drinks, sweet teas, and sports drinks,” says Richard Stapler, spokesperson for the CDA. “Big Soda is a major contributor to the alarming rise in obesity and diabetes. We need to address this crisis now. This initiative gives voters an opportunity to do that.”

The coalition sponsored three bills recently introduced into the California Legislature: AB 764, AB 765, and AB 138, the latter introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D–Santa Monica). AB 764, introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) would limit promotional pricing of high-calories beverages; Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D–Oakland) introduced AB 765, which would prohibit the placement of sugar-sweetened beverages near the checkout counter at supermarkets, large grocery stores, supercenters, and warehouse clubs. The Soda Tax, or AB 138, would direct funds to vital public health and nutrition programs that support low-income communities.

“Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood disease and it affects children’s ability to chew, speak properly, and learn in school. The public health tax is 2 cents an ounce and would provide at least $1.7 billion in revenue for critical health programs. It would fund prevention, treatment, and public health programs to mitigate the damage soda inflicts on public health,” says Stapler.

Resources for dental professionals are available at CDA.org to help educate their patients about adverse effects of sugary drinks and alternative options.

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