Baltimore Residents Have the Right to Know the Truth about Sugary Drinks
June 2, 2016
In my practice as an emergency physician, I have seen 8-year-olds who weigh 150 pounds, teenagers diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and 25-year-olds with high blood pressure and heart problems. As the Health Commissioner for the City of Baltimore, I see these issues play out on a much larger scale every single day.
I see that one in three young people in my city is either obese or overweight, while heart disease—a condition directly linked to diabetes and obesity—is the number one killer of our residents. At the same time, I see how one in four of our children in Baltimore drink a regular soda every day. It is no coincidence that obesity rates are skyrocketing. The science is clear: one of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity is sugary drinks.
This is not an issue of vanity: childhood obesity greatly increases the risk of developing life-threatening health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and kidney disease. It is a public health crisis that comes with high personal, financial, and societal costs.
Fortunately, there is one simple step everyone can take to make a dramatic impact on the obesity epidemic: eliminate or at least reduce the number of sugary beverages that our children drink.
This might sound like an easy solution, but for many residents in Baltimore—and far too many across the country—it is far from it. That’s because beverage companies continue to disproportionately market their products to communities of color and poorer neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are already hardest hit by health problems, and targeting them with unhealthy products increases health disparities and worsens existing injustice.
As a doctor and a scientist, I know that education is one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox to ensure that my patients, and our city’s residents, get healthy and stay healthy.
That’s why I am advocating for legislation currently pending before the Baltimore City Council that would require warning labels for sugary drinks wherever they’re sold and advertised within the city.
This idea came from the community. Youth groups and parents in Baltimore want to be better informed about what they are putting into their bodies. Physicians want patients to have information so they can make healthy choices. These stakeholders are making their voices heard: thousands of community members, and physician, public health, and faith leaders have given their support for this legislation.
Too often, parents are not aware of the health consequences of the sugary drinks they give their children due to misleading marketing. Adding warning labels would level the playing field of inequality to counteract the countless misinformation being fed to our residents.
We must act now to curb obesity rates and offset the long-term health consequences. Join me in asking our elected leaders to approve warning labels for sugary drinks.
Together, we can save our children from a lifetime of preventable medical problems and our communities from an epidemic of obesity and early death.
Dr. Leana S. Wen is the Health Commissioner of Baltimore City. Follow @BMore_Healthy and @DrLeanaWen.