Skip to content

NEWS: Sanders and Booker Take on Food and Beverage Industry with New Legislation to Address Childhood Diabetes and Obesity Epidemics

WASHINGTON, April 19 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), today introduced legislation that would take on the greed of the food and beverage industry and address the growing diabetes and obesity epidemics negatively impacting millions of American children and families across the country. The Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act establishes a first-of-its-kind federal ban on junk food advertising targeted to children in the United States, requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement strong health and nutrient warning labeling, directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate the dangers posed by ultra-processed foods, and develops a national education campaign for children and caregivers through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Let’s be clear: The twin crises of type 2 diabetes and obesity in America are being fueled by the food and beverage industry that, for decades, has been making massive profits by enticing children to consume unhealthy products purposely designed to be overeaten,” said Chairman Sanders. “We cannot continue to allow large corporations in the food and beverage industry to put their profits over the health and well-being of our children. Nearly 30 years ago, Congress had the courage to take on the tobacco industry, whose products killed more than 400,000 Americans every year. Now is the time for Congress to act with the same sense of urgency to combat these diabetes and obesity epidemics. That means banning junk food ads targeted to kids and putting strong warning labels on food and beverages with unacceptably high levels of sugar, salt, and saturated fat.”

“The future of our nation depends on a continued investment in the health and well-being of our children,” said Sen. Booker. “More and more of our children are developing diabetes and obesity primarily because a handful of corporate food giants push addictive, ultra-processed foods to drive up their profits. By banning junk food advertising to children, implementing front-of-package warning labels, and funding research on the dangers of ultra-processed foods, we can rein in the predatory behavior of big food companies and ensure a healthier future for generations to come."

Today, more than 35 million Americans are struggling with type 2 diabetes – 90% of whom are overweight or obese. These crises go hand-in-hand and children are on severely impacted. Today, one out of every five kids are living with obesity. A serious illness unto itself, diabetes is also a contributing factor to heart disease, stroke, amputations, blindness, and kidney failure. Unless the U.S. dramatically changes course, these numbers will continue to grow exponentially.

This epidemic not only endangers the health of tens of millions of Americans, it is also enormously expensive to the U.S. health care system. In 2023, the total cost of diabetes was nearly $413 billion, amounting to about 10 percent of total health care expenditures in the U.S. – up 27% over the past six years.

Each and every year the food and beverage industry spends about $14 billion to market many of their unhealthy products to the American people. Even worse, some $2 billion a year is spent on advertising unhealthy food and beverages to children. According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, children and teens view about 4,000 food and beverage ads on television every year – an average of ten advertisements each day. Another study found that children who watch Nickelodeon and Nicktoons are exposed to over ten unhealthy food and beverage ads every hour.

As the food and beverage industry’s marketing operation continues to target children, the nation’s food itself has also undergone a radical change. Today, a shocking 73 percent of the food supply in the U.S. is ultra-processed and loaded with high levels of added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and non-sugar sweeteners. Consuming ultra-processed foods can be as addictive as cigarettes, as deadly as heavy alcohol consumption, and is linked to over 30 serious health conditions.

Under the Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act, the U.S. would join nations such as Canada, Chile, Ireland, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Portugal and others that have seriously restricted or banned junk foods ads targeted at children. In the 1980s, Quebec banned junk food advertising to children. Today, they have the lowest childhood obesity rate in Canada and the highest consumption of fruits and vegetable of any province in their nation.

As Chairman of the HELP Committee, Sanders led a hearing in December titled, What is Fueling the Diabetes Epidemic? In February, Sanders also sent  a letter  to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. urging the FDA to require corporations in the food and beverage industry to put strong, evidence-based warning labels on their products to protect the health of the American people.

“I am thrilled to see the introduction of the Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act” said Dr. Lindsey Smith Taillie, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina and Co-director of the UNC Global Food Research Program, who testified at the HELP Committee hearing in December. “If it were passed, this law would transform the food environment and target two of the major drivers of unhealthy diets in children, confusing food labeling and junk food marketing. This law would help make kids and families make healthier food choice.”

“Our food environment has become dominated by ultra-processed foods that have more in common with a cigarette than a fruit or vegetable. Many ultra-processed foods are hyperpalatable and trigger the core signs of addiction, like intense cravings and a loss of control over intake” said Dr. Ashley Gearhardt, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and Director of the Food and Addiction Science & Treatment Lab, who also testified. “The American public is not adequately warned about the risks associated with these products and children are a key marketing demographic for ultra-processed foods with unhealthy nutrient profiles. The Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act is a courageous step towards promoting the physical and mental health of American children.”

The Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act is endorsed by more than 20 organizations including: Center for Black Health and Equity, Center for Digital Democracy, ChangeLab Solutions, Consumer Federation of America, Corporate Accountability, Doctors for America, Global Center for Legal Innovation on Food Environments at Georgetown University, Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University, Food and Water Watch, Healthy Food America, Interfaith Public Health Network, Mamavation, National Center for Health Research, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Hispanic Health Foundation, Nourish Science, Public Citizen, Redstone Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health at the University of Connecticut, Society of Behavioral Medicine, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, The Campaign to Address the Ultra-Processed Food and Sugar Epidemic (CAUSE), and University of California Research Consortium on Beverages and Health.

Read the bill section-by-section, here.
Read the bill text, here.