Sugary beverage
Delegates at the recent American Medical Association’s annual meeting adopted several policies aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

WASHINGTON — Delegates at the recent American Medical Association’s annual meeting adopted several policies aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), including support of excise taxes, restricted sales in schools, hospitals and other medical facilities, warning labels and plain packaging.

William Kober
William Kobler, M.D., member of the A.M.A. board

“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 William E. Kobler, M.D., a member of the A.M.A. board.

The A.M.A. cited a report from the Council on Science and Public Health that projected savings of nearly $1 billion in health care costs, primarily due to diabetes prevention, would result from cutting sugar consumption.

The A.M.A.’s House of Delegates adopted policy encouraging “state and local medical societies to support the adoption of state and local excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, with the investment of the resulting revenue in public health programs to combat obesity.” The association said it would assist in advocating for excise taxes as requested by those societies.

Hospitals and other medical facilities were encouraged to offer healthier beverages, such as water, unflavored milk, coffee and unsweetened tea, in place of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as to display calorie counts for beverages in vending machines.

Physicians were encouraged to suggest to their patients they replace sugar-sweetened beverages with healthier beverage choices. Physicians also were encouraged to work with local school districts to “promote healthy beverage choices for students.”

The American Beverage Association and other groups have cited studies showing targeting of specific items, such as caloric sweetened beverages, do not achieve the benefits sought or claimed by those seeking such reductions. Eight U.S. cities currently have soda taxes, as does Mexico, with the U.K. and South Africa planning to implement taxes in coming months.

Delegates at the annual meeting also took action to promote the availability of healthful foods in hospitals, food banks and food-assistance programs.

The A.M.A. said it would call on hospitals to improve the health of patients, staff and visitors by providing a variety of healthful food, including plant-based meals, and meals that are low in fat, sodium and added sugars. The delegates also called on hospitals to “eliminate processed meats from menus.”

Policy also was approved to “request the federal government support SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) initiatives to incentivize healthful foods” while discouraging or eliminating unhealthful foods, including harmonizing SNAP food offerings with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Food banks and food pantries were encouraged to use existing national nutritional guidelines, promote sustainable sourcing of healthier food options and disseminate user-friendly resources for education on healthier eating.