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Why CrossFit's founder wants the government to put warning labels on sugary drinks

Why CrossFit's founder wants the government to put warning labels on sugary drinks
Crossfit Inc. Chief Executive Greg Glassman speaks about the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Safety Warning Act during a November appearance at Fathom CrossFit in San Diego. (Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

By Roy M. Wallack

CrossFit changed fitness. Now, the high-intensity workout colossus wants to change our diets, by cutting back on sugar-packed sodas and energy drinks, considered by many the key agents in the steep rise of obesity and chronic diseases including diabetes.

"We're in a holy war with Big Soda," CrossFit founder Greg Glassman recently told a crowd of about 200 at Carson CrossFit on a Saturday night. "It's killing this country's health."

Glassman has been leading similar rallies at gyms across the state, all in support of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act. Sponsored by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), the act would require sugar warning labels on soft-drink cans, bottles and vending machines. The warning, similar to that on cigarette packs, would read in part, "Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay."

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The proposal was defeated before a state health committe last year. Although a Field Poll that showed 74% of voters favor warning labels, the bill failed in part due to four lawmakers who abstained. A new vote is slated for Jan. 13.

And committee passage is a mission for Glassman.

He's been anti-sugar for decades, and has long made "Eat No Sugar" a cornerstone of CrossFit's philosophy.

"Training thousands of clients taught me that you are not going to exercise your way out of a [bad] diet," he said. He has joined forces with Harold Goldstein, the anti-soda activist and founder of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. And he's also hired lobbyists, and launched a website called CrushBigSoda.com, all in a bid to convince vote abstainers to change their minds.

He says CrossFit followers have targeted committee members with 4,500 emails so far.

The lawmakers who abstained at the last vote — state Sens. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside), Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) and Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) — declined to comment. Glassman notes that many of the lawmakers' constituents are black and Hispanic, two groups that disproportionately suffer high diabetes and obesity rates.

Nguyen's chief of staff, Mark Reeder, said her office has heard similar criticism: "We got a fair amount of unhappy letters … generally saying 'It's a health issue,'" he said. "Some minority groups met with us, thinking they are being targeted by the soda makers."

The American Beverage Assn. also declined to comment on Glassman's efforts, beyond issuing a statement: "Addressing obesity and diabetes is more complicated than a warning label, which is why California's legislators have repeatedly rejected misguided policies like SB 203."

Glassman is used to seeing people sprout muscles and shed fat in a few weeks after adopting a CrossFit lifestyle, including grueling workouts of burpees, thrusters and clean-and-jerks, and a diet that ditches processed food and sugar.

And he knows taking on sugary drinks is much harder.

"Every day in the gym, we fight chronic disease, but the debilitating effects of sugar are overpowering," Glassman said. "For the rest of my life, I'll be a one-issue guy.... It's reducing sugar consumption."

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