by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Soft drinks

Oct 20 2015

Uh oh. Big Soda lobbyists weaken Mexican soda tax

Yesterday, I received this ALERT from health advocates in Mexico:

Big Soda negotiates behind doors with PRI to reduce Mexican SSB tax to 5% for drinks with 5 grams of added sugars per 100ml– Public health advocates denounce conflict of interest and speak out in defense of the tax

Yesterday Mexico’s Congressional Finance Committee proposed and voted in favor of an alarming measure to reduce the rate of the current 10% sugar-sweetened beverage tax to 5% on products with 5 grams of added sugar or less per 100 milliliters. The measure was pushed through committee vote with a reservation from only one political party and moves on to a vote in the lower house within the next 24-48 hours. Beverages with more than 5 grams of added sugar per 100 milliliters would continue to be taxed at 10% (1 peso per liter).

A columnist in one of Mexico’s most prominent dailies indicates that this negotiation between the FEMSA Coca-Cola bottling company and the PRI political party (current administration and majority vote holder in Congress and Senate) came about after attempts at a food and beverage industry negotiation with the PRI, seeking to reduce Mexico’s SSB and snack taxes. The columnist says Bimbo (&the food industry) was eventually excluded from this negotiation to focus on an attainable goal of reducing the SSB tax. (See column in Spanish: )

After several recent press conferences and an act in Congress “to trap” industry lobby mosquitos (Oct 6), continuing to call for an increase to a 20% SSB tax in accordance with national and international expert recommendations, and warning the public and decision makers of industry lobby, today civil society advocates –the Nutritional Health Alliance and ContraPESO– published a full page ad in Mexico’s most important daily asking whether legislators are on the side of public health or soda industry interests and calling on them not to cede to the industry lobby.

In the ad (see translation below and image attached), advocates warn that the most currently consumed 600 ml sugary drink on the Mexican market that has 5 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters contains 30 grams of sugar, above the WHO’s new guidelines for healthy living.

The language of the initiative to reduce the tax recognizes the SSB tax as a public health measure and the progress made, yet proceeds to reduce the tax far below the expert recommended rate, representating a setback to Mexico’s landmark tax.

FYI: Although Mexico’s lower house of Congress (Chamber of Deputies) holds authority over final budget decisions on income, Mexican legislative process entails that the budget package, once voted in the lower house, passes to the Senate for review and a vote, before passing back to the lower house for final approval.

Tweet indignation over industry back-door negotiation and support for the current tax and need for an increased tax: #ImpuestoAlRefresco
Press interviews: contact
If you or your association can emit a declaration or letter of support, send to:

PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCATES IN MEXICO – Ad in Reforma newspapers OCT 19, 2015 – IN DEFENSE OF MEXICAN SSB TAX. Translation:
Members of Congress:

Have you let yourselves be bitten by the sugar-sweetened beverage lobby mosquitos?:

Do you serve soda industry or public health interests?

– The tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is 10% (1 peso) and not 20% (2 pesos) per liter as recommended by international and national organizations.

– The proposal to lower the tax to 5% to beverages with 5 grams or less of sugar per 100 milliliters acquiesces to soda industry interests, which are the parties mainly responsible for the collapse of public health in Mexico.

– The most consumed 600 milliliter drink in Mexico has 5 grams of sugar for every 100 milliliters contains 30 grams of sugar (6 spoonfuls).

– This surpasses the 25 grams (5 spoonfuls) that the World Health Organization establishes as a maximum amount of added sugars per day in order to preserve one’s health. (1)

– Sugar is not an essential nutrient and there is solid evidence showing that its consumption is harmful to health, contributing to overweight, obesity and caries, serious public health problems in Mexico.

Sugar-sweetened beverages kill more Mexicans a year than organized crime. (2)

Whose side are you on?


Show that you work to protect the public health of the Mexican population and not Big Soda’s profits.

We demand that the special tax be preserved and increased to 20% for ALL SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES, as recommended by international and national organizations.

Sep 16 2015

Big Soda vs. public health in San Antonio

Dr. Thomas Schlenker, who directs San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health, asked the City Council to support a “drink less soda” campaign.

The City Council said no.  It fired Dr. Schlenker.

A representative of the Texas Beverage Association and Coca-Cola’s director of public affairs sit on the City Council and have veto power over its actions.

Schlenker says his firing is due to his outspoken critique of sugary drinks; the City Council says he’s just rude.

Maybe, but as Dr. Schlenker explains, Big Soda has donated millions to city government.

Says the Wall Street Journal,

One of the soft drink industry’s biggest challenges: constantly fighting the perception that soda is really bad for you. No matter how much money it spends on research or argues that exercise lowers obesity, the industry is playing a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. When it beats down critics in one place, they pop right back up in another.

Other cities, even in Texas, are looking for ways to slow down the rising prevalence of obesity.  Cutting out sugary drinks is a great first step.  Other cities should hire Dr. Schlenker.

Sep 15 2015

Big Soda vs. Public Health: the US Conference on Mayors

There seems to be no end to such stories, many of which I cover in Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)officially out October 1 but being shipped right now.

Here’s one I didn’t cover.

2008: The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) passed a resolution supporting “increased resources for cities to help combat obesity and fund obesity prevention, including consideration of revenues from the major leading contributors of the nation’s obesity epidemic, including calorically sweetened beverages, fast food, and high calorie snacks.”  Translation: taxes

2010: USCM posted an article in its online newspaper about mayors considering soda taxes.

2011: The American Beverage Association (ABA) became a member of the USCM’s Business Council, and partnered with the group to start a $3 million childhood obesity prevention program.  Would this aim to reduce intake of sugary beverages?  Nope.

Instead, the program focused on:

  • Promoting physical activity
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption

2015:  The winning projects were:

  • Jacksonville, FL, $150,000 for a youth initiative to make fresh fruits and vegetables available at a cheaper cost, and to promote physical activity.
  • Seattle, WA, $25,000 to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among at-risk kids, through farm-to-table initiatives.

2015: Here’s what Scientific American says about all this (I’m quoted).

There is no mention in the application of decreasing consumption of calorically sweetened beverages, fast food, or high calorie snacks, which are all specifically cited in the 2008 USCM resolution as contributors to the nation’s obesity epidemic…The beverage industry seems to be obsessed with physical activity, as evident from the recent spate of stories about Coca-Cola funding studies that point the blame for obesity at caloric expenditure, rather than caloric intake. The science overwhelmingly does not support this.

Aug 13 2015

The Guardian: Coca-Cola says its drinks don’t cause obesity. Science says otherwise

I wrote this piece for The Guardian in response to the New York Times article earlier this week about Coca-Cola’s funding of scientists who think obesity is more about exercise than drinking sodas:

These days, you almost have to feel sorry for soda companies. Sales of sugar-sweetened and diet drinks have been falling for a decade in the United States, and a new Gallup Poll says 60% of Americans are trying to avoid drinking soda. In attempts to reverse these trends and deflect concerns about the health effects of sugary drinks, the soda industry invokes elements of the tobacco industry’s classic playbook: cast doubt on the science, discredit critics, invoke nanny statism and attribute obesity to personal irresponsibility.

Casting doubt on the science is especially important to soda makers. Overwhelming evidence links habitual consumption of sugary drinks to poor health. So many studies have identified sodas as key contributors to chronic health conditions – most notably obesity, type-2 diabetes and coronary artery disease – that the first thing anyone trying to stay healthy should do is to stop drinking them.

Soda companies know this. For at least the last 10 years, Coca-Cola’s annual reports to the US Securities and Exchange Commission have listed obesity and its health consequences as the single greatest threat to the company profits. The industry counters this threat with intensive marketing, lobbying and millions of dollars poured into fighting campaigns to tax or cap the size of sugary drinks.

But it is also pours millions into convincing researchers and health professionals to view sodas as benign.

Just last month, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study arguing that the results of national dietary surveys, such as those that link sugary drinks to type-2 diabetes, are so flawed that they constitute a major misuse of public funds. The authors report honoraria, speaking and consulting fees from Coca-Cola.

This week’s revelation of Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network is only the latest example of this strategy in action. The Network promotes the idea that to prevent obesity you don’t need to bother about eating less or drinking less soda. You just have to be more active. Never mind that most people can’t lose weight without also reducing their intake.

A reporter who looked into this group discovered that Coca-Cola had funded the research of the scientists behind it, and generously. The network’s website was registered to Coca-Cola. None of this, however, had been made explicit.

Most nutrition professional journals now require researchers to declare who funds their studies, making it possible to compare study outcomes with funding sources. Studies sponsored by Coca-Cola almost invariably report no association of sugary drinks with diabetes, they question the validity of studies that do find such associations or, as in the case of Global Energy Balance Network investigators, they find activity to be the most important determinant of body weight.

Analyses of studies funded by Coca-Cola or its trade association demonstrate that they have an 83% probability of producing results suggesting no harm from soda consumption. In contrast, the same percentage of studies funded by government agencies or independent foundations find clear linkages between sugary beverages and such conditions. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Since March, I’ve been posting industry-funded studies with results that favor the sponsor’s interests every time I find five of them. They are easy to find. Despite pleas to readers to send me industry-funded studies that do not favor the sponsor, I hardly ever get them. Whenever I come across a study that shows no harm from sodas, I immediately look to see who paid for it.

Soda companies spend generously to convince researchers and health professionals not to worry about sodas’ health effects. But why do researchers take the money? It is too simplistic to say that they are “bought.” Industry-funded investigators say they believe the funding has no effect on the design, conduct or interpretation of their research. But research involves choices of questions, assumptions and methods. It is not difficult to carry out a study that appears to meet high scientific standards yet fails to include critical controls that might lead to alternative conclusions.

Researchers funded by Coca-Cola need to take special care to control for unconscious biases but can only do this if they recognize the possibility. Many do not. Neither do many peer reviewers or editors of scientific journals. Although food-company financial support should not necessarily bias results, it appears to do so in practice.

Industry-funded scientists resent questioning of the influence of sponsorship on the quality of their science. They charge that investigators who find adverse effects of sodas on health are equally biased by career goals, righteous zeal or anti-corporate morality. Yes, independent scientists may have biases of their own, but their overarching research goal is to improve public health. In contrast, the goal of soda companies is to use research as a marketing tool.

Disclosure is essential. If a study is funded by Coca-Cola, caveat emptor.

Jun 11 2015

San Francisco supervisors vs. sugary drinks

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved three measures to deal with sugary drinks:

1.  Put warning labels on all print and billboard ads for sodas and sugary drinks sold in the city (those with more than 25 calories per 12 ounces).

2.  Ban soda ads on city property

3.  Prohibit the use of city funds for the purchase of soda or sugary beverages

Will the mayor sign the measure?

Will the city’s famous freeway sign look like this?



Mar 5 2015

Court confirms constitutionality of the Mexican soda tax

Last week the Mexican Supreme Court passed down its judgment on a writ of unconstitutionality (amparo) filed against the soda tax that went into effect in January 2014.

This unanimous judgment:

Documents (in Spanish):


Dec 24 2014

Christmas health advocacy, Mexican style

Rebecca Berner of Mexico’s food advocacy coalition, Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria (Nutritional Health Alliance) sends this press release announcing her group’s new video ads to encourage you to take sodas off your holiday tables.

The Make Someone Happy” counter-commercial:  This ad satirizes Coca-Cola’s Christmas marketing campaign with global statistics on the burden of disease and death associated with sugary drink consumption.


Santa Claus resignsThis counter-ad shows Santa acknowledging his “karmic debt” for a lifetime of promoting soda.

Cheers for the holiday season!

Dec 3 2014

Annals of gifting: Boxing Wednesday, I guess

I arrived in my office this afternoon to find this astonishing gift.  It was delivered and assembled by Health Warrior, Incl, the maker of Chia bars.

It came with a lovely letter from Health Warrior’s CEO, Shane Emmett, who must somehow know that I am finishing up the manuscript of a food about food advocacy using the soda industry as an example.  The book is as yet untitled (“Soda Politics”?) but it is in the works with Oxford University Press for September 2015.


This is the start of our department’s gym.  We do practice what we preach.  Come box with us, any time.

Thanks to Shane Emmett, ever so much (I think).


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