Health advocates and public-health officials from major cities nationwide are asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the amount of caloric sweeteners in sodas and other beverages, saying the scientific consensus is that the level of added sugars in those products is unsafe.
The group, led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and including public-health departments from Boston to Los Angeles, said the FDA had pledged in 1982 and 1988 to reassess the safety of sweeteners if consumption increased or if new research indicated ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose were a public-health hazard.
At a news conference Wednesday, Michael Jacobson, the center’s executive director, said both conditions had been met and thus the FDA was “obligated” to act.
The center has asked the FDA to set a safe limit for caloric sweeteners in beverages because they are the biggest source of sugars in the U.S. diet. “Just to assure you that sugars are not toxins, I use a teaspoon of sugar in my tea every day and I’m sure it’s not poison,” Jacobson said. “It’s the overconsumption that is par for the course in the U.S. that we’re concerned about.”
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The center is also asking the agency to set voluntary limits on sweeteners in packaged goods, such as cereals and snacks, and to mount an educational campaign to help consumers reduce added sugars in their diet.
Public-health officials who signed the petition said they did so out of concerns that obesity was contributing to rising rates of health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and gout, all of which are increasing.
“We recognize that sugar-sweetened beverages are an issue, particularly when we’re talking about obesity in children,” said Sue Beatty, health-education manager for the city of El Paso, Texas. “Anything that can be done to reduce the consumption of sugared sodas would improve the health of our population.”
A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda contains an amount of high-fructose corn syrup equivalent to roughly 16 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons and men no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar a day.
The big beverage makers are aware of the growing pressure to either reduce the amount of sweeteners or find an alternative to such sugars.
PepsiCo, for example, has used stevia in a product called Trop50 to reduce calories in juice.