Temperance Brew

Eradicating Sweetened Beverages

A pretty solid consensus seems to exist around the notion of reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Consumers are cutting back on drinking them. Even beverage makers are finding ways to formulate, package, and promote their products to reduce the amount of sugar people are drinking.

But no such consensus seems to exist on the ultimate goal. In a symposium at the Fourth Canadian Obesity Summit, Vasanti Malik and Jack Winkler presented contrasting views. Winkler suggested that non-caloric sweetened beverages are a good option for reducing consumption of sugary drinks.

LemonadeNo, said Malik. The goal should be to eliminate sweetened beverages.

Wait till Big Lemonade hears about this!

It’s not just the lemonade lobby that might resist this thinking. People have been putting sweeteners in their coffee, tea, and countless other beverages for quite some time — well before the epidemic of excess obesity appeared in the 1980s.

Beyond the public resistance to such a goal, there’s also the problem of coming up with evidence that eliminating all sweetened beverages will actually produce a net health benefit. While pretty broad agreement exists on the need for some reduction in added sugar consumption, the evidence for a net benefit from eliminating all sweetened beverages is tough to find.

A recent controlled study of substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages found no effect on cardiometabolic risk factors. Naturally, a polite scuffle ensued when the authors relied upon a bit of data dredging to suggest a benefit despite seeing no effect in their primary analysis. So it goes when polemics overtake nutrition science.

Too much of a good thing — like a sweet drink — becomes a bad thing. But eradicating small pleasures can have ill effects as well. When people start looking for alternatives, unintended consequences follow, sometimes making the cure worse than the problem.

Click here for the study of substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages. Click here and here for the polite debate that ensued on data dredging.

Temperance Brew, photograph © Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library / flickr

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2 Responses to “Eradicating Sweetened Beverages”

  1. May 04, 2015 at 6:52 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    I’m more concerned about Big Arnold Palmer, frankly….

    Seriously, more moral psychology at play. Just watched this TED Talk and found it very illuminating….


    • May 04, 2015 at 7:58 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe. I like Jonathan Haidt. But are you on commission from him? Enquiring minds…