Liquid Calories: Fighting Childhood Obesity due to Sugar-Sweetened Beverages


The Baltimore City Health Department states that 1 in 3 school aged children are clinically overweight or obese. One of the major causes of this is the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs). SSBs are drinks that contain high sugar content with little nutritional value such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks, which due to their unfulfilling nature cause children to consume much more than their daily recommended caloric intake.


Image Cred: The Capher


Research compiled by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard has shown that for every 12oz soda, children have a 60% increased odds of becoming obese, a 26% increased odds of developing diabetes, and a 20% and 75% increased risk, respectively, of heart disease and gout as an adult. Consequently, the U.S. spends roughly $190 billion treating children for traditionally adult obesity related complications yearly.

There are, however, interventions that are effective in curbing this epidemic. A 2016 study demonstrated that when SSBs are simply accompanied by a warning label that states “Drinking beverages with added sugars contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay”, almost 20% fewer adolescents chose to drink an SSB compared to SSBs without labels. In January of 2016 Nick Mosby, Baltimore City Councilman, proposed a bill to the City Council requiring billboard advertisements, restaurants, transit adds, retailers and food service facilities post this warning label, with a $500 fine for noncompliance.

Although scheduled for a committee voting session in November of 2016, the legislation has stalled and it’s not clear presently when it will be voted on. This stagnancy makes it vital that the Baltimore City Health Department increase their own campaigns in support of the legislation, in addition to their support of NGO’s like The Sugar Free Kids Coalition which has testified for the Health Committee and continues to advocate for passage of the bill.

5 Responses to “Liquid Calories: Fighting Childhood Obesity due to Sugar-Sweetened Beverages”

  1. a.saffer Says:

    I think this is an important policy that is part of a trend, hopefully, to make consumers more aware of the nutritional risks and consequences associated with certain foods. Unfortunately, it seems a majority of companies selling unhealthy foods and drinks have an enormous amount of money, affecting those with the power to implement policies to put warning labels on consumer goods. It seems, though, that there is greater pressure on food/drink production companies to produce healthier items, with greater accountability to its consumers. It also seems that the population’s general knowledge on the risks of highly sugared foods/drinks is increasing, but I may be biased based on the people I generally talk to. If policies regarding marketed goods cannot be changed, there are other ways to prevent consumption of SSBs. There may be an opportunity for agencies like the Baltimore City Health Department to direct campaigns at increasing people’s general knowledge about the foods/drinks they are consuming, empowering the city’s population to make informed decisions. There may also be opportunity for the schools and other adolescent spaces to make the decision to not sell SSBs as well as other unhealthy items.

  2. sarahrosenbergjhmi Says:

    Combating childhood obesity is definitely of major concern as it is increasing in both developing and developed countries. I think it’s a great idea to include warning labels to SSB as it is a form of providing equity as well as informing the public of the dangers that can result from chronic and increased SSB consumption. Some counties in Illinois and California have imposed a SSB tax that has shown to reduce the consumption of SSB, but this would lead to a higher financial burden on low socioeconomic class families as opposed to higher income families. Other studies I researched looked at whether state policies that ban all SSB’s in middle school would decrease consumption. This only led to a reduction in in-school access and purchasing, but not overall consumption. I think a combination of a SSB tax, a warning label, and banning them from schools would have the best impact at reducing the consumption of SSB, resulting in a reduction in childhood obesity. Then policy can transition into changing available food options/availability to adolescence.

  3. yooniesim Says:

    While a combination of different strategies–including taxes, warning labels, ban and awareness education–will be needed to combat the consumption of SSB and childhood obesity, I would like to emphasize the powerful role of economic incentives in shaping people’s behavior. Soda is the new tobacco in a sense that “sin taxes” targeting SSB could not only curb soda consumption, but they will also increase the revenue that could be reinvested in a wide array of efforts to fight childhood obesity. As price elasticity of demand for soda is relatively high (10% increase in the price of soda would lead to 8% decrease in consumption), this strategy is fairly effective in achieving both goals (lower consumption +tax revenues), and the French tax is generating about 300 million euros per year. Given rising health and social expenditure, this new source of income could alleviate financial burden and be used in promoting healthy diet and behavior.

  4. abrow170 Says:

    This post was very interesting and outlines the reasons why our youth in America have been getting bigger and more unhealthy with the increased availability of less healthy options as well as the affordability of those options in corner stores, grocery stores and vending machines within schools. I think something that also largely may be playing into these increasing trends of obesity and other related health outcomes is the lack of education surrounding how you are the food you eat and the presence of food deserts throughout the baltimore city area. Your post reminded me of a podcast I recently listened to on freakonomics radio where the hosts outlined alot about the influences of advertising on the way that americans consume. Specifically, they start with advertisements to children (i.e. mcdonalds commercials, sugar cereal, sugar drinks etc.) and they began to realize that these commercial heavily infiltrate the minds of children and stick with people as they get older (in terms of brand loyalty). Your suggestions are great about the requirement for the posting of warning labels with a penalty for noncompliance and I would also add that may there is a need to further restrict advertisement on tv by age groups; with no advertising to children and therefore limiting the promotion of unhealthy sugary beverage consumption. Also, the coalition between the city and schools to limit access to sugary drinks in school would definitely help:) Great post!

  5. ailiu1111 Says:

    Thank you for your interesting post. Childhood obesity epidemic is definitely an important public health problem that deserves the attention of not only public health practitioners, but parents, educators and the industry. The research regarding labeling sugar beverages that was cited in the post is quite intriguing and the results definitely support labeling as a potential mechanism of reducing sugar beverage consumption. However, we may also take into account health and socioeconomic disparities that exist which perpetuates consumption pattern of unhealthy food. When I was in nursing school, we conducted a small observational study and found that the inner city groceries where many low-income families shop are arranged differently compared to other groceries (same brand) in the suburb. Unhealthy choices such as high-calories snacks, frozen dinners, sugary drinks are placed conveniently whereas fresh produces are placed in the far corners of the inner city grocery stores. The legislation in question is undoubtedly a step to the positive direction and should be championed; nevertheless, we should also focus on other more insidious factors that inadvertently influence people’s purchasing behaviors.

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