No More Free Refills in France
The French say “non.” No more free refills. As of last Friday, selling unlimited servings of sugary soft drinks for a fixed price is illegal in France. This move continues a steady path of measures intended to curb the rise of obesity there.
In 2004, France banned vending machines from schools. In 2011, school cafeterias were told to stop serving french fries more than once a week. A soda tax came next in 2012.
Obesity rates in France – 15% – are well below the 37% rate that prevails in the U.S. They’re slightly below the European average of 16%. Italy (11%) and Romania (8%) have the lowest rates in Europe.
The French soda tax implemented in 2012 has yet to stop the rise in obesity prevalence there. On the whole, this ban on free refills for sugary drinks seems more sensible. The notion that sugar is “pure, white and deadly” is a bit of overblown hyperbole. Sugar always has, and alway will be part of our diets. It’s the sugar in breast milk that appeals to us as infants.
But the excess of sugar in our diets, which peaked sometime around the turn of the millennium, is a problem that’s tough to dispute. Along with sugary drinks, desserts and snacks contribute much of the excess of sugar in our diets. Many foods with healthy halos – like yogurt and energy bars – add to the overload.
The beverage industry helped to make this happen by putting their sugary drinks everywhere. Scientists call it food cues. Marketers call it merchandising. The industry made it worse with innovations like free refills, Big Gulps, and two-liter bottles.
So banning free refills is not such a bad idea. An even better idea is enlisting the industry in efforts to bring down the consumption of sugar in their products. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is working through an ongoing commitment from Pepsi, Coke, and Dr Pepper Snapple to cut beverage calories in the American food supply.
Litigation and public pressure might nudge these beverage companies to change their ways. But real progress will come when their marketing efforts are fully focused on selling a more healthful portfolio of products.
Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.
January 30, 2017