The American Beverage Association spends substantial time and money trying to convince people there’s no relationship between soda and disease. It’s not working very well. One glimpse at the ABA’s Facebook page will show you how few are interested in ABA propaganda. And soda regulation is now one of the hottest topics of debate across the country, not to mention Mexico and the UK.
That said, it can be amusing to analyze the ABA’s sophistry. Take the ABA’s recent attempt to acquit Coca-Cola and Pepsi:
The simple concept of cause and effect says that if soda causes obesity, then obesity rates should decline as soda consumption declines. But just the opposite has happened. Obesity has gone up as soda consumption has gone down.
So should we all go out and drink 60-ounce Pepsis to celebrate the fact that soda doesn’t cause obesity? The ABA would probably like you to reach that conclusion:
The obesity rate climbed from 31.1% in 1999-02 to 35.7% in 2009-12 – at the same time regular soda sales went down 12.5%. It defies logic to say soft drinks are driving obesity
Unfortunately the ABA’s defense of soda doesn’t withstand scrutiny.
First, the ABA misrepresents the case against soda. Scientists and public health activists such as Robert Lustig and Marion Nestle have not claimed that soda is the ONLY cause of obesity. In fact, soda is a source of added sugar and calories that contributes to obesity. So if you want to eat a healthier diet, it’s a good idea to start by cutting out soda and other sources of added sugar.
Even Big Soda’s own scientists admit this is true (at least in academic papers that most consumers never read). Coke-funded scientist John L. Sievenpiper and ABA expert witness Richard Kahn have stated,
… if reduced energy intake is desirable, all caloric foods are candidates. A reduction in consumption of added sugars should head the list because they provide no essential nutrients.
And the case against soda goes beyond obesity. Studies have shown that added sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to diabetes and heart disease, even if you control for weight gain or calories (1,2,3,4). No, you can’t jog away Coca-Cola’s toxicity.
Does ABA’s Argument Work for Cigarettes?
Let’s apply the ABA argument to soda’s cousin, cigarettes. You probably agree that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. And smoking rates are way down:
So less smoking means less lung cancer, right? No – it’s not that simple. Male lung cancer has indeed decreased. On the other hand, the female lung cancer death rate increased dramatically from 1965 to 2000, as did female lung cancer diagnoses.
For decades smoking went down, while female lung cancer went up. If we applied the ABA’s defense to cigarettes, we’d conclude that smoking doesn’t cause female lung cancer. Shall we add a packet of Marlboros to our Pepsi-Cola party?
Not so fast. Cigarettes aren’t the only cause of lung cancer. Asbestos, radon and uranium also significantly increase the risk of lung cancer. So if female smoking decreased while female exposure to those chemicals increased, that is one possible explanation for the graphs above.
Nor can we discount soda’s contribution to obesity using the ABA’s logic. Health-conscious readers should disregard the ABA’s arguments and strenuously avoid both soda and cigarettes.