Skip to main content

San Francisco’s Latest Move in the Fight Against Obesity

Updated: 8/14/21 7:00 amPublished: 3/20/15

Twitter Summary: SF pushing new laws to limit ads for sugary drinks – why this is different from failed #sodatax + what these laws mean for the fight against #obesity

San Francisco officials recently introduced new legislation on March 10 that aims to increase awareness around the health risks associated with sugar-sweetened beverages, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. The legislation – a set of three individual laws – focuses specifically on advertisements and labeling of sugary drinks, including soda and energy drinks (but notably not natural fruit juices, which often also contain a high amount of added sugar). As SF Gate reported, city Supervisor Scott Wiener stated, “There’s an enormous amount of advertising of soda and other sugary drinks that associate them with love and happiness and everything good in the world when in reality it’s the largest source of sugar in the American diet, and it’s making people sick”. If these laws get passed, it would make San Francisco the first city in the country to require warning labels for sugary beverages.

The three proposed laws are:

  1. Mandatory labeling on soda and sugary drink advertisements (required to take up at least 20% of the total ad space) in the city that reads: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.” This warning label would be required for physical ads in the city (e.g. those on billboards, sports stadiums, etc.) but not to media advertisements like TV commercials, newspapers, or radio ads. They also would not appear on the beverages themselves. 

  2. A ban on sugary drinks advertisements on any city property, which includes buses and bus shelters. This ban already exists for tobacco and alcohol products.

  3. A ban on city departments from using city money to buy sugary drinks, including for office meetings or city-sponsored public events. Additionally, city food service contracts would not be allowed to buy or distribute sugary drinks.

These efforts are not the first time the Bay Area city has focused on sugar-sweetened beverages. Last November, the city failed to pass Proposition E, which would have put a two cents per ounce tax on sugary drinks. A similar tax successfully passed in San Francisco’s neighboring city of Berkeley, making it the first city in the US to pass a tax on soda after 31 failed attempts in other cities.

It is still unclear if this initiative would have any effect on sugary beverage consumption, or if decreased sugary beverage consumption would actually impact obesity and/or type 2 diabetes rates. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are complex diseases influenced by many factors; no single intervention will be able to solve these complex health crises in America, but it’s promising to see more action from policymakers on the issue. There is not concrete evidence showing that sugary drinks directly causes obesity or type 2 diabetes, though research has shown that soda and added sugar have a clear correlation to both diseases. Moreover, soda has become the single largest source of added sugar in the average American diet. Other recent initiatives are also aimed at decreasing sugary drink consumption, such as the SugarScience educational initiative, the removal of soda from all kids’ menus at major Fast Food chains (McDonalds, Wendy’s and recently Burger King, among others), and Michelle Obama’s Drink Up campaign encouraging people to drink more water. –MRV/AJW

What do you think?