Hopes and Fears, Bubbles and Booze

Is fear a useful tool for promoting public health? Skimming the headlines you might think so. Hopes and fears for our health often take a ride on the beverages we drink and demonize.

Fear the Bubbles

In the UK, the press seems delighted to hype a rat study of carbonated water, saying that it will cause obesity by messing with your hormones. The study found weight gain in rats given carbonated water compared to controls. The researchers also gave sparkling water to 20 male students for breakfast and found that they were hungrier than controls who drank still water. The researchers also reported finding higher levels of ghrelin – a key hunger hormone – in their subjects who drank sparkling water.

Looking for a sensational quote, reporters consulted Tam Fry of the UK National Obesity Forum. He told them that health authorities must curb the use of carbonated beverages if this alarming finding is confirmed. The National Obesity Forum recently lost four of its directors after it issued a widely criticized report advising people they could reverse obesity and diabetes by eating more fat and less carbs. We take Fry’s words with a large grain of salt.

Reporters did not consult any serious independent obesity researchers on this story.

Booming Beer and Wine

While soft drinks with bubbles keep feeling the heat, wine and craft beers are booming. Though overall alcohol consumption is pretty stable or declining slightly, these two segments are making plenty of money by taking consumers to their premium drinks.

Having beaten the demon rum into submission a century ago, public health has made peace with stable, ongoing alcohol consumption. Alcohol is labeled the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. But public health efforts focus on excessive consumption, abuse, and misuse. And in fact, you’ll find a whole section on the health benefits of moderate drinking on the NIH webpage of alcohol facts and statistics.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald opines that money and gender politics account for a soft approach to taxing alcohol – especially wine. Meanwhile a tax on sugary soft drinks remains a hot topic.

Perhaps fear is a strong motivator. But whipping up public fears seldom leads to good health decision making. Harnessing a little hope and rationality might be wise.

Click here for more from the Sydney Morning Herald, here for more on boom times for craft beers, and here for more on good times for the wine industry.

Beers, photograph © Sara / flickr

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May 15, 2017