One third of Americans are now obese and another third are overweight. Diabetes rates are not far behind. Childhood obesity and diabetes, almost unheard of 50 years ago, have reached alarming levels.
There is a lot of blame to go around – from fast food restaurants to school lunch and other government programs that encourage unhealthy diets. Of course, the packaged foods industry has also received a lot of the blame.
Soda pop producers have been especially singled out by many nutritionists and public health professionals for their role in promoting obesogenic diets. I will be discussing this more on Wednesday, but most of you already know how pervasive pop consumption is in the U.S. and how many calories we consume as sports drinks, soda pop, and other sugary beverages. Even with consumers cutting back on their pop consumption, each one of us still drinks, on average, more than 35 gallons per year.
Last year, a major controversy on this very topic occurred after the prestigious journal JAMA Internal Medicine published an study critical of the sugar industry. Specifically, that revealed how the sugar industry promoted research in the 1960s and 1970s that advanced the argument that fat and cholesterol were the real dangers in our food and to our health. Sugar consumption was down-played. This sales pitch was evidently very successful, and this position (fat bad) became dogma for the next 40 years (see also this New York Times article).
Indeed, the researchers that led these early studies were themselves well-known and from prestigious institutions (from Harvard, no less). That they were paid by the industry without disclosing this information was, according to New York University nutritionist, Marion Nestle, an “appalling” conflict of interest. In her JAMA commentary, she notes that the sugar/pop industry continues to have a “cozy relationship” with obesity scientists and that such relationships bias the research in this important public heath field.
This issue is not going away, and the soda pop tax issue remains front and center.