Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.5, WHST.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.8, RI.6-8.10, W.6-8.1, W.6-8.5, W.6-8.9, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Power, Authority, and Governance • Civic Ideals and Practices

Illustration by Michelle Rohn


Expert vs. Expert

Should Sodas Have Warning Labels?

The average American chugs about 40 gallons of soda every year—the equivalent of nearly 430 12-ounce cans. Many experts say that sodas and other sugary drinks are taking a huge toll on our health. Research shows that consuming too much sugar can lead to tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver damage, and other health problems.

That is why some lawmakers are trying to discourage people from consuming sugary drinks. Legislators in at least six states, including California, New York, Vermont, and Washington, have proposed requiring warning labels on containers of soda and other beverages with added sugars. Some city governments have done the same.

Supporters of such measures say that it’s important to alert people to the serious risks of consuming too much sugar. They say that the warnings are needed to help counteract the hundreds of millions of dollars the makers of sugary drinks spend each year trying to get Americans to buy their products.

But opponents of such warnings say the labels are unnecessary and that it’s unfair to blame soda and other sugary drinks for Americans’ health problems. They point out that U.S. obesity rates have increased over the past few decades even though soda consumption has gone down. Plus, critics say, the government should not be trying to influence what people drink.

Should sodas and other sugar-added drinks have warning labels? Two experts weigh in.


A soda delivery truck featuring a famous red-and-white logo rolls by your family’s car on the highway. Your favorite basketball player guzzles a sports drink after swishing a three-pointer. Sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas, and fruit-flavored drinks are almost everywhere.

What you don’t often see is information about what those drinks can do to your health. Where does it tell you that soda and other sugary beverages are the top source of added sugar in the American diet? The soda industry won’t tell you that, or that regularly downing soda and sports drinks (as many kids do) increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and other health problems. That’s why requiring warnings on sugary drinks could be helpful.

Warnings can help us make informed decisions about what to buy.

Research shows that parents tend to buy fewer sugary drinks when warning labels are displayed on the container. In fact, studies have found that warnings are more effective in convincing parents to select a healthier beverage than the soda industry’s “Clear on Calories” labels, which feature calorie counts on the front of products.

Warning labels do not tell you what you are allowed to drink. They simply give you information about the health risks connected to consuming sugary drinks. Everyone has the right to know that these beverages may harm your health. Armed with this information, consumers of all ages can better make the decision about what to buy—and what to leave on the shelves.

—Elizabeth Velten
Advocate for public health, Alameda, California


There are 52.5 grams of sugars in 12 ounces of a popular brand of naturally sweet grape juice. That is considerably more than the 39 grams in one 12-ounce can of a popular brand of soda.

Yet if various proposals become law, sodas and some other drinks with added sugar would have to carry warning labels about possible health effects while the grape juice would not. It’s hard to figure out the logic of that.

It is true that soda is a major contributor of sugar to our diets and that consuming too much sugar often leads to serious health problems. But soda is just one part of the problem. Americans eat a lot of other unhealthy food. If we’re going to put warning labels on sodas and other sugar-added drinks, why not on packaging for flavored potato chips, bacon, and highly processed breakfast cereals?

It’s unfair to single out sodas in the fight against excess sugar.

Studies have found that certain kinds of warning labels are effective at reducing cigarette purchases and dissuading people from smoking. Food is different from cigarettes, however. No amount of smoking is good. But we all must eat and drink.

Having a soda once in a while is OK. The problem is that highly processed foods, over­consumption, and lack of exercise are regular parts of our lives. Would people who give up soda simply switch to other unhealthy foods?

Before we require makers of drinks with added sugars to advertise against themselves on their labels, we need more evidence that warning labels would make an actual difference in Americans’ health.

—Karin Klein
Los Angeles Times writer specializing in science, education, and food policy

Write About It! What do you think? Should sodas and other sugar-added drinks have warning labels? Write an argument that includes evidence from the article and from your own experiences or research.

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