Graham Soda Shop

Big Soda: Carnage or Engagement?

This week,  CDC released data showing that the steady decline in sugar-sweetened beverages, ongoing since 1999, has slowed. The reaction from some public health folks was hyperbolic. Big soda “causes carnage” and “cares nothing” about it, says Walter Willett. Comparisons to alcohol, tobacco, and guns flowed freely.

Oddly enough, folks sounding these alarms did not acknowledge declining sugary beverage consumption until it slowed. Was it not relevant? Or did it not serve a narrative to inspire fear about the looming threat of sweetened beverages?

We live between two worlds that are both dealing with concerns about the effects of excess sugar on health. In one, hyperbole rules the day. Fiery rhetoric about toxic sugar and carnage flows.

But in another, folks at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation are engaged in the work of driving down the calories consumed in sugary beverages. The progress since 1999 came in part from their work for better nutrition standards in schools. They negotiated important agreements with the beverage industry to remove sugary beverages from schools.

They were also first to point to the slowing in progress toward further reductions. In November, the Alliance issued a joint progress report with the American Beverage Association. It is part of an ongoing agreement to cut beverage calories another 20% by 2025. Their detailed report described both the trends through 2015 and the need for stronger efforts going forward. Beverage companies are bringing important insights about consumer behavior to the table.

Public pressure on beverage companies is a good thing. It’s an antidote to complacency and a stimulus for action. But when advocacy starts to use hyperbole and propaganda techniques, credibility can suffer.

Fear mongering about “carnage” brings to mind a poisonous political environment. In that environment, the truth suffers.

Click here for the new report from CDC, here for more from the Washington Post, here and here for more from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and here for their 2016 progress report.

Graham Soda Shop, photograph © Kevin Jones / flickr

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February 2, 2017

2 Responses to “Big Soda: Carnage or Engagement?”

  1. February 02, 2017 at 8:19 am, David Brown said:

    The report says, “Studies have suggested a link between the consumption
    of sugar-sweetened beverages and dental caries, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children.

    Google NAFLD endocannabinoid system. The first item in the list says, “Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a major cause of liver morbidity and mortality with no proven effective therapy as of yet. Its prevalence is increasing globally in parallel with obesity and metabolic syndrome pandemic. The endocannabinoid (EC) system has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several diseases, including fatty liver diseases.

    Try the same Google routine with dental caries, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia. The dental caries Google yields some especially interesting information. “The endocannabinoids 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), N-arachidonoylethanolamide (anandamide, AEA), and the N-acylethanolamines (oleoylethanolamide, OEA and palmitoylethanolamide, PEA) were quantifiable in saliva and their levels were significantly higher in obese than in normal weight subjects.”

    How does sugar affect the endocannabinoid system? “Dietary sugar overconsumption might provoke deleterious effects at both central and peripheral levels, including alterations in (i) the regulation of secretion of satiety peptides and neuropeptides; (ii) gut permeability leading to low-grade inflammation and liver disease; (iii) blood–brain barrier (BBB) permeability; (iv) the endocannabinoid, opioid, and mesolimbic dopaminergic systems, as well as (v) brain structures involved in reward processing. Both drugs and food have powerful reinforcing effects partly mediated by dopamine increases in the limbic system that, under certain circumstances or in vulnerable individuals, could overwhelm the brain’s homeostatic control mechanisms, but the plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders in humans is still a subject of controversy.

    I suspect the controversy could be resolved if the World’s obesity experts familiarized themselves with endocannabinoid system research. They don’t mention it in their writings. It’s rarely reported on in the media. What are they waiting for?

    • February 02, 2017 at 9:40 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, David, for taking the time to read and provide thoughtful comments.