AMA Adopts Policies to Reduce Consumption of Sugary Drinks

If America’s largest and most powerful physician association has its way, unhealthy sugary drinks will cost more and will no longer be served or sold in the nation’s hospitals or medical facilities.

At the recent American Medical Association (AMA) annual meeting on June 14th, the AMA House of Delegates, which represents over 200,000 physician members, called for adopting evidence-based strategies to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) including:

  • Imposing sugary drink excise taxes across the nation and investing tax revenue in public health programs to prevent/treat obesity and related chronic diseases;
  • Restricting access to sugary drinks in hospitals, schools, medical facilities and other settings;
  • Using warning labels to educate consumers on the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages;
  • Using plain packaging that doesn’t appeal to children and restrict marketing of SSBs to children

The policies adopted were recommended in a report from the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health.  The report cited a projection that “cutting sugar consumption could save nearly $1 billion in health care costs, primarily due to diabetes prevention.”

“Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to some of the nation’s most debilitating diseases, and limiting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages will go a long way toward helping people prevent the onset of these diseases, improve health outcomes, and rein in health costs associated with chronic diseases,” said AMA Board Member William E. Kobler, MD, in a statement.

Consumption of sugary drinks is related to increased risk of numerous chronic ailments including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.  According to statistics cited in the council’s report, 20.9 million people are projected to develop type 2 diabetes over the next 10 years in the U.S., with 1.8 million cases due to consumption of SSBs.”

The new policy statement on sugary drinks acknowledges the need to improve consumer education on the “adverse health effects of excessive consumption of beverages containing added sweeteners.” It urges locales that implement a tax to use the revenue to fund initiatives like sugary drink education campaigns, obesity reduction programs and improved access to drinking water. It also recommends that these programs and initiatives focus heavily on the communities that are disproportionately impacted by obesity and related chronic diseases.

The AMA pledged to step into the fray and “assist state and local medical societies in advocating for excise taxes on SSBs as requested.”  

Additionally, the AMA is calling on the nation’s doctors to “walk the talk” by swapping out sugary drinks offered in medical center cafeterias and vending machines with healthier beverages like unsweetened milk, coffee and tea as well as water. Physicians will also ask these venues to display, at point of purchase, calorie counts for all drinks in vending machines. The incongruity of selling or serving unhealthy sugary beverages in hospitals and medical offices – beverages that likely contributed to many patients’ chronic ailments – has long mystified health advocates.

The new policy also encourages physicians to counsel patients about sugary drink consumption, urging them to “replace SSBs with healthier beverage choices, as recommended by professional society clinical guidelines.” On another front, physicians are asked to work in their own communities with “local school districts to promote healthy beverage choices for students.”

Finally, the AMA will continue to encourage research into other promising strategies that may help reduce the consumption of SSBs, including controlling beverage portion sizes that can be purchased at public venues and rethinking U.S. crop subsidies.

You can read the AMA Council on Science and Public Health’s full report here.



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