US: American Medical Association approves policies to reduce sugar intake

Published: 06/16/2017, 2:09:17 PM

Obesity remains a growing epidemic that needs to be addressed. With increased evidence of a connection with added sugar consumption, delegates joined forces in agreement to find solutions for improved health outcomes across the spectrum, according to the US's AMA Wire.

At the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates (HOD) took action on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and availability of healthful foods in hospitals, food banks and food-assistance programs.

Some hospitals and other medical facilities currently ban the sale of SSBs to help limit access to patients, visitors and employees. With the mounting evidence of a connection between added sugar consumption and obesity, these programs strive to improve health outcomes.

In hopes of limiting the consumption of beverages with added sugars, the AMA adopted policy encouraging "hospitals and medical facilities to offer healthier beverages, such as water, unflavored milk, coffee and unsweetened tea, for purchase in place of SSBs." Delegates also will ask such outlets to display "calorie counts for beverages in vending machines to be visible next to the price."  

Sugar consumption exceeds recommended limits, according to data cited in a Council on Science and Public Health report. New AMA policy encourages physicians to suggest their patients "replace SSBs with healthier beverage choices, as recommended by professional society clinical guidelines." Physicians should also work with "local school districts to promote healthy beverage choices for students."

Delegates also adopted policy favoring evidenced-based strategies to reduce consumption of SSBs including: imposing excise taxes, restricting access to SSBs in schools and other settings, using warning labels to educate consumers on the health harms of SSBs and using plain packaging. The council's report cited a projection that cutting sugar consumption could save nearly US$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 addition, the HOD 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 AMA will also "assist state and local medical societies in advocating for excise taxes on SSBs as requested."  

Along with moving to cut down on sugary drinks served in hospital, the AMA will "call on United States 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." Delegates also want hospitals to "eliminate processed meats from menus."