This is a position paper I wrote to bring attention to the effect added sugars have on the obesity epidemic.
To download the printable PDF click here –> position paper
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Excluding Added Sugars from Nutrition Labels Leads to Child Obesity
By Emily, Nov 30, 2014
It has been said that child obesity is “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century” (“Child Obesity”, 2014). In the 1970s, five percent of the children in the United States were obese. In the past three decades, the percentage of obese children ages two to nineteen in the US has more than doubled (“Child Obesity”, 2014). To diagnose someone as obese, their body mass (BMI)—determined by measuring height and weight and then calculating the BMI—has to be 30 or greater (“About BMI for Adults”, 2014).
Obesity in children is such a problem because it can lead to health problems that will last with them for the rest of their lives. Some of these health issues are:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
As more and more kids are getting diagnosed with obesity, more awareness is being raised. There are campaigns whose goal is to combat obesity such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! and NFL’s Play 60. Also, some select organizations, school districts, and businesses that are making the necessary changes to become healthier.
Naturally, since so many kids are affected by child obesity, there are in turn many causes for the epidemic. Some of these causes include:
- Inactive lifestyle
- Lack of sleep
The cause that is currently among one of the most discussed topics in the medical community is diet. Diet is gaining so much focus because in the realm of diet falls added sugars. The amount of added sugars is not printed on any nutritional label for any food product. The total amount of sugars listed on the labels include natural sugars and added sugars, this blurs the lines of the “good” sugars (natural) from the “evil” sugars (added) in the product.
Natural sugars are found naturally in foods such as fructose in fruits and lactose in milk. Added sugars are any amount of sugar that is added to a product of food. The sugar you put in your coffee in the morning is added sugar. Added sugars can include the kind of sugars that make up natural sugars, but adding them to foods add nothing to empty calories, which is what makes them so bad for you. The added sugars contain no nutrients, minerals, proteins, or essential fats (“Sugar 101”, 2014)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing a new label that among other design changes, would include the amounts of added sugars. Scientists, medical professionals, and nutritionists are putting added sugars at the heart of the obesity epidemic while food companies are defending their right in leaving the information off the label.
There is no doubt that food companies would take a beating if the nutrition labels were to include added sugars. It is not fair to all the companies that have to put added sugars in their products, that are otherwise healthy choices, so they will taste good and people will purchase them. Many companies have written in to the FDA requesting not to be required to include their added sugar amounts on the label. Among these are companies such as Campbell’s Soup Company, National Yogurt Association, National Frozen Pizza Institute, and Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. (Olsen, 2014).
Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Label
In the letter that Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. sent to the FDA they expressed their concerns regarding the fate of their products if they were to include added sugars on the nutrition label. They mentioned how cranberries are naturally low in natural sugars and extra sugar has to be added to make them edible, otherwise they are far too tart to eat. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. and the American Beverage Association both agreed that consumers would not understand why large amounts of sugar needs to be added because they’ve never had to taste the products without it. The American Beverage Association stated: “a transparent added sugar label may carry an unfair connotation that undermines the factual nature of nutrition information” (Olsen, 2014). Although the proposal to put added sugars on the label may be unfair to certain companies, the fact that they’re adding sugars to their products in hopes that they will up the sales is doing nothing but harming their consumers.
Twenty years ago when nutrition labels first came out added sugars weren’t a concern. This is mainly because added sugars weren’t as prevalent as they are now. Today, food companies are trying to lower the amount of calories in their products. However, in many cases calories are concurrent with flavor, and so sugars are added to make the product taste good. Child obesity also wasn’t as large of an issue as it is now due to the fact that the rates back then weren’t as high as they are now. With the drastic rise in child obesity rates in the past few decades, it is obvious that something has changed.
Obesity can lead to diseases and chronic illnesses such as hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician who focuses on preventative healthcare, is board-certified in family medicine, and is in fellowship with the American College of Nutrition stated: “One of the primary, and likely most effective ways of preventing these diseases would be to curb the outrageous over-consumption of sugar” (Mercola, 2012).
Sugar is directly correlated to obesity and is an explanation to why obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Americans eat over 34 teaspoons of sugar each day. For one day that is the equivalent to 500 extra calories, and for one week the extra calories equal the amount found in one pound of body fat (Mintz, 2014). Children are especially affected by the amount of sugar because they are targeted by food industries. Advertisements for sugary beverages and snacks are often aimed at the younger generation. Sugary food products in grocery and convenience stores are at the eye level of children making it hard for them to resist, and hard for parents to say no.
Take sugary beverages for example. Over the past decade or so, these drinks have taken over the consumer scene. They seem to be sold in every grocery or convenient store. Even some department stores, home improvement stores, and movie rental retailers have vending machines or coolers that dispenses sugary beverages (McKinlay, 2014). These types of drinks include.
- Sport drinks
- Fruit juices
- Flavored teas and coffees
- Energy drinks
In the past three decades, the child obesity rate has doubled. What has also doubled in those thirty years is Americans consumption of soda pop. Today, the average American drinks 1.6 cans of soda pop a day, which is more than 500 cans a year (McKinlay, 2014).
Teenagers are especially apt to include sodas in their diet and in most cases soda takes up the majority of their caloric intake. Even thirteen years ago, the chances of a child becoming obese increased by 1.6 times each time they consumed an additional sugar-sweetened drink (Gortmaker, Ludwig, & Peterson, 2001).
It is inevitable that even if added sugars were listed on the nutrition label, some individuals would ignore them and not consider the consequences until well after they’ve indulged in the product, if they even thought about them at all. It is more beneficial to consumers to make sure this information is readily available than it is harmful to food companies to enforce them to present the information. The trend between added sugar consumption and obesity is undeniable; it is imperative that this information be available so that people know exactly what they’re putting in their bodies.
Some parts of the country have taken steps already to prevent child obesity in their communities. Back in 2002, it was voted to ban the sales of soda and other similarly unhealthy beverages in the Los Angeles Unified School District (Late, 2002). Nutrition regulations have been applied to New York City’s city-licensed, group-based, early childcare providers. These regulations include a ban on serving any beverages with added sugars and only 100% fruit juice is allowed (Khan, Leviton, Nonas, & Silver, 2014).
For change to occur, more communities need to take their own initiative. If food companies are so intent about not including the amount of added sugars on the label, then consumers need to take a stand and not purchase their products. After the levels of added sugar are on the labels, the next step would be to get the percent of the daily value of sugars the product contains on the label as well. Children are going to continue to suffer the consequences until action is taken.
About BMI for Adults. (2014). Retrieved October 25, 2014, from CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html?s_cid=tw_ob064
Child Obesity. (2014). Retrieved September 8, 2014, from Harvard, School of Public Health website, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends/global-obesity-trends-in-children/
Gortmaker, S. L., Ludwig, D. S., and Peterson, K. E. (2001). Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. The Lancet, 357(9255), 505-508. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04041-
Khan, L. K., Leviton, L., Nonas, C., and Silver, L. D. (2014). Rationale for New York City’s Regulations on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Screen Time in Early Child Care Centers. Preventing Chronic Disease, 11. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/13_0435.htm
Late, M. (2002). L.A. schools ban sales of sodas. Nation’s Health, 32(9), 9. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.pitt.idm.oclc.org/ehost/detail/detail?sid=8a0cf78b-c76e-4999-9a76-95750e01ef91%40sessionmgr4001&vid=0&hid=4206&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ== – db=hch&AN=7680128
McKinlay, R. (2014). Childhood Obesity: The Link to Drinks. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from OAC, Obesity Action Coalition website, http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/childhood-obesity-resource-articles/childhood-obesity-the-link-to-drinks
Mercola, J. (2012). Almost Everyone Eats It, But It’s a “Breeding Ground” for Disease. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from Mercola.com, Natural Health Information Articles and Health Newsletter by Dr. Joseph Mercola website, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/02/27/can-sugar-be-toxic.aspx
Mintz, B. B. (2014). Sugar: Sweet and Tempting… But Hazardous to Your Health. Exceptional Parent, 44(9), 22-24. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.pitt.idm.oclc.org/ehost/detail/detail?vid=2&sid=3d529873-550b-4ee2-8965-65fd5994cd85%40sessionmgr4005&hid=4206&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ== – db=cin20&AN=2012710548
Olsen, S. (2014). Nutrition Facts Labels May Soon Include Added Sugar Info; Food Companies Protest Despite Risks of Obese, Diseased America. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from Medical Daily, The Hill website, http://www.medicaldaily.com/nutrition-facts-labels-may-soon-include-added-sugar-info-food-companies-protest-despite-308834
Sugar 101. (2014). Retrieved November 26, 2014, from the American Heart Association website, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Sugar-101_UCM_306024_Article.jsp
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