No reason to delay labeling of sugary drinks, Johns Hopkins researcher says

Labels do more good than harm, authors write in 'Baltimore Sun' letter

Warning labels on sugary drinks could be the "little nudge" that many people need to make healthier choices, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher and staff member contend in a recent Letter to the Editor published by The Baltimore Sun.

Earlier this month, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen and Councilman Nick Mosby introduced legislation that would require businesses that sell or advertise sugar-sweetened sodas and other drinks to post signs warning consumers that they contribute to tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes.

"The science is clear: The biggest contributor to childhood obesity is sugary drinks," Wen said at a news conference announcing the proposal. "Childhood obesity will lead to adult diseases that kill, and we must do everything we can to protect the health of our children."

A Sun editorial advocated for a more measured approach: "It's unnecessary for Charm City to be at the vanguard of this particular public health intervention until the benefits have been proven. Just as individuals should be cautious about their dietary choices, government must wield the regulatory bludgeon with care."

In response to that editorial, Bloomberg School Professor Joel Gittelsohn—a medical anthropologist who specializes in the design, implementation, and evaluation of health and nutrition intervention programs—and Cara Shipley—a research program coordinator who helps run a Baltimore childhood obesity prevention trial—said there is no reason to delay labeling or warning signs. They note studies conducted in Baltimore suggesting that vendors who apply warning labels to drink displays see a decrease in the number of those drinks sold, and that the lost profit from those sales can be made up when vendors offer and promote healthier alternatives.

"We view the sugary beverage warning label legislation as part of the solution to the epidemic of obesity and chronic disease in Baltimore City," Gittelsohn and Shipley conclude. "A definite step in the right direction, with minimal risks to local businesses."

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