Soft Drinks and Diets

There’s so much to cover with the recent news items surrounding soft drinks and obesity, that I could easily write several posts on the subject. Instead, I think I’m going to writing my talking points to all of the items.

  • It’s not the Soft Drinks as much as the accessibility of Calories: It is of my opinion that the press is getting the story all wrong. The issue here isn’t that soft drinks are bad for you and that they are the primary cause of the increase of obesity in our country. The issue comes down the inexpensive availability of empty calories to consumers, whether it’s via soft drinks, “sport” drinks, fast food, potato chips or candy.

    Now you may be asking yourself that if I’m correct, why all of the hub-bub surrounding these drinks? Because sugar-laden beverages are ubiquitous in our society. I’m not simply pointing fingers at soft drinks here, but at the apple juice at breakfast, the bottle of tea consumed at lunchtime and the Gator-ade being drunk after workouts. All of these provide additional calories that need to be accounted for in some way. Trust me, if milk shakes were the beverage of choice in our culture, they’d be looking to condemn milkshakes.

  • Cigarettes and Soda: Let’s knock off the comparisons between cigarettes and soft drinks. Headlines like “Food scientists dub soft drinks ‘cigarettes’ of obesity epidemic” are overly-simplistic and misleading. To try to connect the two health stories together only muddies an already opaque puddle. The only similarity between the two is perhaps the cost to the health care industry and days of productivity lost. Even that connection is tenuous.

    Besides, cigarettes have extenuating circumstances surrounding health issues due to second hand smoke and addictive ingredients, variables not often seen in soft drinks.

  • Personal Responsibility and Diet: One cannot talk about obesity without giving at least lip service to the idea of personal responsibility. Granted, people’s behavior and choices are influenced by outside variables that also should be discussed (such as advertising), but to not address this issue puts all of the responsibilities on the on food producers when the reality is that the individual does play a part in consumption.
  • Taxing and Labeling are not solutions: Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard pediatrician, wants a “fat tax” on fast food and drinks. Initially this sounds like a good idea. But let me ask you this – By what criteria will fast food and drinks be judged? With drinks it would take little effort to add a requisite amount of vitamins and minerals allowing the drinks to circumvent the criteria by just the amount needed to avoid paying taxes. Labeling suffers from similar issues. Why label McRibs, but not bacon at the grocery store? Why label soft drinks, but not your local baker’s cheese Danish?

    To me, the first solution we should be talking about is education. Granted there are problems with this solution as well, but done well, education can be effective. How many people talked about safe sex 30 years ago, or the dangers of tobacco 50 years ago?

Look, I’m all for getting the information out there. And trust me, no one is more skeptical of the producers of soda pop and of the sweeteners therein than I. But if we’re going to have a debate about obesity, it needs to be an honest and thorough one.

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