* American Cancer Society wants Surgeon General review
* Group wants major study similar to historic tobacco report
* Beverage industry denies significant link between soda,
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, July 3 A leading U.S. cancer lobby
group is urging the Surgeon General to conduct a sweeping study
of the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on consumer health,
saying such drinks play major role in the nation's obesity
crisis and require a U.S. action plan.
In a letter to U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the
American Cancer Society's advocacy affiliate on Tuesday called
for a comprehensive review along the lines of the U.S. top
doctor's landmark report on the dangers of smoking in 1964.
"An unbiased and comprehensive report on the impact of
sugar-sweetened beverages could have a major impact on the
public's consciousness and perhaps begin to change the direction
of public behavior in their choices of food and drinks,"
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network wrote.
"There seems to be a consensus about the problem and the
cause, but what is lacking is an articulate, science-based and
comprehensive national plan of action," it added.
The role of sugar-sweetened drinks such as soft drinks
-sometimes called soda - sports drinks, teas and juices in the
U.S. diet has drawn fresh attention in the wake of a New York
City plan announced in May that would limit the cup sizes for
such beverages to 16 ounces (0.47 litre).
Its proposal has reverberated elsewhere across the United
States, where two-thirds of people are overweight or obese and
health costs are spiraling. Other cities and towns are also
looking at ways to curb consumption, citing the need to improve
the public health and save money.
The beverage industry, which includes The Coca-Cola Co
, PepsiCo Inc and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc
, has defended its products even as it has moved to sell
other options that consumers see as healthier. Some of those
drinks, however, also contain as much sugar and calories as
"We already have studies from the federal government and
independent third parties that demonstrate soft drinks are not a
unique or significant contributor to obesity," Karen Hanretty, a
spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, said in
response to the letter.
The U.S. Surgeon General's office plays a largely symbolic
role but is often looked to for direction on significant health
issues. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Tara
Broido gave no comment except to say that the agency had not yet
received the letter.
Health experts and advocates say that while food and lack of
exercise contribute to obesity, data show sugary drinks are a
large part of the problem. The Institute of Medicine, the health
arm of the National Academy of Sciences, in May called for more
policies to reduce overconsumption of sugary drinks.
Dick Woodruff, vice President of federal affairs for the
cancer society's advocacy arm, said the group was not trying to
demonize the beverage industry but rather seek an unbiased
review of all available science.
"There is an obesity epidemic ... and one in three cancer
deaths are due to nutrition and physical activities, including
overweight and obesity," he told Reuters.
Another advocacy group has also cited a more direct link
between sodas and cancer.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a U.S.
watchdog group, is seeking a ban on the use of chemically
enhanced caramel coloring in soft drinks in favor of pure
caramel from sugar. High levels of the chemical, called
4-methylimidazole or 4-MI, have been linked to cancer in
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have said they would reduce the
chemical to avoid cancer warning labels on products sold in
California, even though the Food and Drug Administration has
said the drinks are safe. Last
week, CSPI said Coca-Cola's namesake soft drink still contains a
high level of the chemical in several countries.