Drink Up America, Home Of The Free…And The Obese

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Last month, a New York judge struck down New York City’s ban on sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Soon after, former vice presidential candidate and reality television star Sarah Palin thrilled a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference by pausing her speech to sip from a Big Gulp.

Then, freshly-minted Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz proposed a largely ceremonial “Big Gulp Amendment,” which would keep the federal government from limiting soda size, while Mississippi’s governor signed into law a bill that prohibits local governments from regulating sugary drinks.

New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has taken heat for pushing for the soda size ban, though history may treat him more kindly than have conservatives. Science may, as well. Public health advocates have been calling for a limit on soda intake for years.

The typical 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 16 teaspoons of high-fructose corn syrup or other added sugar. The American Heart Association suggests women consume 6 or less teaspoons of added sugars a day, compared to 9 or less for men.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and other health advocacy groups have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to research what might be a safe level of the sugar or corn syrup in sweet drinks like soda. These added sugars include sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, invert sugar, and corn syrup. They’ve also asked the government to take the lead in educating the public about the dangers of consuming too much added sugars.

Those dangers include, but are not limited to, obesity and its attendant risks of heart disease, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes, among others. As obesity has risen in the U.S., the incidences of some of those illnesses have, as well.

Despite the dangers, shoppers can still buy soda via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program –what used to be called food stamps. In 2011, the state of New York sought to remove soda from SNAP benefits in a pilot program, but the federal government said no. As Kelly D. Brownell, of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, pointed out in a paper he co-authored at the time, “The government purchases millions of servings of sugar-sweetened beverages for SNAP participants each day.”   This while the prevalence of obesity increases as income decreases among women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Any effort to write public policy that limits sugar-soda intake runs counter to a tsunami of public relations dollars. The public interest center recently issued a report that outlines how the soda industry’s largesse is less about charity and more about influence buying – or philanthro-marketing. In 2012, for example, Coca-Cola gave $125,000 to the American Diabetes Association for educational efforts among African Americans and Latinos. Is it ironic that such a committed delivery system for sugar would then donate money that could result in a cut in their profits?

Ha, ha. As if. The report also said that for every $1 Coke spent on charity in 2010, it spent $170 on marketing its sugary drinks; PepsiCo’s contributions to human sustainability programs in 2011 was $2.3 million. Compare that to the $60 million the company spent sponsoring the television show, “The X Factor.”

Add to that some donations to organizations you wouldn’t think would take them. In 2009, the American Academy of Family Physicians received $600,000 from Coca-Cola. By some estimates, soft drinks account for roughly a quarter of calories consumed by children and young adults from age 2 to 19. Wonder how they spent the money?

But by all means, drink up. This is America, home of the free, the proud, and the increasingly obese and sick.





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