City targets energy drinks

The New York City Health Department, locked in a court fight with an industry group that includes Coca-Cola and PepsiCo over a ban on large serves of sugary soft drinks, is now going after sports drinks, teas and energy drinks that it says can be just as deadly.

New television ads and subway placards flash pictures of fruit-flavoured drinks containing added sugar, saying the healthier-sounding choices can cause obesity and diabetes.

One of the TV ads depicts a patient with amputated toes from diabetes, an overweight man slugging a neon-blue sports drink and a surgeon picking at a diseased heart with tweezers.

”Non-soda sugary drinks have been marketed as being healthier, with references to fruit and antioxidants, vitamins and energy,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, a medical doctor.

”We’re trying to warn them that these drinks can have as much or more sugar and calories as soda because we still have a major epidemic of obesity,” he said.

”Once again, the New York City Health Department is oversimplifying the complex set of factors behind obesity,” said Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association. ”Selectively picking out common grocery items like sugar-sweetened beverages as a cause of obesity is misleading.”

Dr Farley noted that while a 20-ounce (590-millilitre) Coca-Cola has 240 calories, a Red Bull energy drink of the same size contains 275 calories.

The expanded campaign comes before a showdown between beverage makers and the city in a New York state appellate court.

The city has appealed a permanent injunction issued on March 11 to stop a Health Department law pushed by mayor Michael Bloomberg that would cap the size of sugary soft drinks sold in restaurants, movie theatres, stadiums and arenas at 16 ounces (about 470 millilitres) a cup. Oral arguments will be heard on June 11.

Dr Farley said the new ads are not timed to coincide with the appeal, adding that the city is ”optimistic” the ban will be upheld.

The percentage of adults who said they drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day declined from almost 36 per cent in 2007 to almost 30 per cent in 2011, according to a city tracking poll. Of youths surveyed in a similar poll, the percentage declined to almost 21 per cent in 2011 from about 28 per cent in 2005.

Last month, Coca-Cola said it would expand calorie labelling to the front of all packages and reiterated its pledge not to advertise to children under 12.

Beverage makers have used sports drinks, teas and energy drinks to help offset soft-drink sales declines in the roughly $US70 billion US industry.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and the beverage association spent as much as $US70 million on lobbying and issue ads between 2009 and early 2012, according to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. In that time, at least 30 states proposed aggressive excise taxes on soft drinks, all of which failed amid industry push-back.

Whatever the cause, obesity in the US comes at a ”staggering” financial cost, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said. Everything from treatments for diabetes to lost work by obese employees cost Americans an estimated $US147 billion in 2008.


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