US Should View Soda Similar to Tobacco, Cancer Group Says

July 4, 2012 Updated: July 5, 2012

A top U.S. cancer lobbying and health organization called on health officials to conduct a study that shows how consumer health is affected by sugary beverages, such as soda. The organization pointed out that those beverages contribute greatly to the obesity problem in America.

A nonprofit wing of the American Cancer Society (ACS) said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday that a study should be done in a similar manner to the 1964 surgeon general report on tobacco and cigarettes, which was landmark in warning the public about the dangers of their use.

“An unbiased and comprehensive report could have a major impact on the public’s consciousness and begin to change the direction of public behavior in their choices of food and drinks,” an excerpt of the ACS Cancer Action Network letter reads.

“We know there is a direct link between excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity, and the adverse health effect can be profound in children as they grow into adults and throughout their lives,” it added.

The letter noted there is “a consensus about the problem and the cause, but what is lacking is an articulate, science-based, and comprehensive national plan of action.”

Christopher W. Hansen, president of ACS, highlighted the possible risk between cancer and obesity in the letter: “Sugar contributes to caloric intake without providing any of the nutrients that reduce cancer risk.”

The leading health epidemic in the United States is obesity, which according to government figures is the second leading cause of preventable death following tobacco use.

At the same time, the ACS letter pointed out that one-third of the more than 572,000 cancer deaths each year in the United States are linked to eating and lifestyle habits, which include being obese or overweight.

It added that an increase in portion and drink sizes are also contributing to the American obesity epidemic across all age groups and population segments.

Debate over the amount of sugary drinks consumed by Americans flared recently when New York City moved to limit cup sizes for beverages to 16 ounces.

The American Beverage Association, which represents Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Dr. Pepper, has defended the consumption of sugary beverages, including soda.

“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 industry group, told Reuters in response to the ACS letter.

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