By Jennifer Chaussee
SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 23 (Reuters) - A measure to require sugary soft drinks to carry labels warning of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay advanced in the California state legislature on Friday, the latest move by lawmakers nationwide aimed at persuading people to drink less soda.
The legislation, if enacted, would put California, which banned sodas and junk food from public schools in 2005, in the vanguard of a growing national movement to curb the consumption of high-calorie beverages medical experts say are largely to blame for an epidemic of childhood obesity.
"This is a major victory for public health advocates, community groups, physicians, and dentists," said Democratic state senator Bill Monning, author of the bill. "By informing consumer choice, we can improve the health of Californians."
In 2012, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spearheaded a citywide ban on sales of oversized sugary soft drinks, but the move was declared illegal by a state judge after a legal challenge by makers of soft drinks and a restaurant group. New York's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal.
The California measure, passed on Friday by a 5-2 vote in the state senate's appropriations committee, marks the second time that Monning, who represents the central coastal area around Carmel, has tried to influence consumers' drink choices.
The bill next goes to the senate floor, where it could have its final senate vote as early as Wednesday.
Last year, Monning backed an unsuccessful measure that would have taxed the drinks.
Efforts to curtail consumption of sugary drinks through taxes and other efforts have met fierce resistance from the U.S. food and beverage industry, which opposes the labeling bill.
Lisa Katic, who testified on behalf of the California Nevada Soft Drink Association in April, said the proposal, while well intentioned, "will do nothing to prevent obesity, diabetes or tooth decay, and may even make problems worse."
According to Katic, the main source of added sugars in American diets are sandwiches and hamburgers, and not sodas or other soft drinks. (editing by Gunna Dickson)