by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Soft drinks

Jun 1 2012

Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban proposal hits the wall

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a ban on sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, sports arenas, and movie theaters.

The reactions have been ferocious, and not only from the soda industry, which placed this ad in today’s Times.

The New York Times also weighed in with an editorial arguing that the mayor has now gone too far and should be sticking to educational strategies.

Alas.  If only educational strategies worked.  But they do not.

We know this from what it took to discourage people from smoking cigarettes.  We also know this from research on eating behavior.  This shows that it doesn’t take much to get people to eat too much.

Just barrage us with advertising, put food within arm’s reach, make food available 24/7, make it cheap, and serve it in enormous portions.

Faced with this kind of food environment, education doesn’t stand a chance.

That’s the point the Mayor’s proposal is trying to address, however clumsily.  After all, a 16-ounce soda is two servings.

Sugary drinks—especially large ones—make sense as a target for a portion size intervention.

  • They have calories but no nutrients (“liquid candy”).
  • The larger the serving size, the more calories they contain.
  • They are widely consumed, often to the extent of hundreds and sometimes thousands of calories a day.
  • Research links them to obesity (people who habitually consume sugary drinks tend to have worse diets and weigh more than those who don’t).
  • People tend to drink the amount that is in the container.

The sugary drink industries have much to answer for their role in obesity promotion.

  • They put billions of dollars into advertising, much of it directed to children and minority groups.
  • They lobby Congress and federal agencies to prevent laws and regulations that might affect sales.
  • They co-opt health organizations to neutralize criticism (hence: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ advice to focus on “education and moderation”)
  • They attack public health professionals who advise “don’t drink your calories.”
  • They attack the science and make it appear confusing (see the above ad which does not mention studies that show otherwise).
  • They price drinks to favor the largest size servings; an 8-ounce soft drink costs much more per ounce than a 2-liter bottle.

If the Beverage Association really wanted to help Americans eat more healthfully, it could change all of those practices.

The Mayor is committed to improving the health of New Yorkers and is trying to figure out ways to do that.

Beverage companies are interested in one thing and one thing only: the financial health of beverage companies.  And they have convinced many Americans that the financial health of beverage companies trumps public health.

Education?  I’m for it if it’s focused on educating the public how beverage companies really operate.

Addition: The New York City Health Department has been collecting endorsements from public officials and health advocates and is posting them online. I’m in good company.

Apr 23 2012

Gatorade: the new health food?

On April 20, I received a letter from a Gatorade PR person commenting on one of my posts reposted at the Atlantic Health/Food section.

After reading the letter, I searched my posts for references to Gatorade but can’t find anything specific other than my reporting the more than $100 million a year Pepsi spends to advertise this product.

So I’m guessing the letter must be referring to my comments about sports drinks in general:

Hi Marion –

I recently read your article in The Atlantic and would like to make sure you have the most current information. Your article criticizes sports drinks, advising against them because the sugars and carbs will make you fat. It also discusses the main sweetener in most sports drinks is high fructose corn syrup.

I would like to point out the carbohydrates and calories are functional in Gatorade, a sports drink, and are meant to provide fuel specifically for athletes.

The ingredients in Gatorade are backed by years of scientific research that support the need for carbohydrate sugars for fuel during training or competition and we only recommend Gatorade during the active occasion.

Also, high fructose corn syrup is not an ingredient in any Gatorade products.

For those looking for a lower-calorie sports beverage, Gatorade offers G2, which delivers the same amount of electrolytes as original Gatorade but with half the calories. Gatorade also recently introduced G Series FIT 02 Perform, which is designed for a fitness athlete and has 10 calories per 8oz serving.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need any additional information.


Katie Montiel, Gatorade Communications

I’m always happy to hear from interested readers.

And aren’t you glad to know that sugar is a functional (translation: “good-for-you”) ingredient in Gatorade?

Feb 20 2012

Annals of food marketing: Are Dr. Pepper ads sexist?

I am indebted to for bringing the recent ads for Dr Pepper Snapple’s diet—oops, low-calorie—Dr Pepper Ten to my attention.

This drink has only 10 calories but is aimed clearly at men who, the ads assume, are fine about low-calorie sodas but squirm at the idea that they might be seen drinking diet sodas.

In case you haven’t been tracking these things, Coke has both bases covered: Diet Coke appeals to women and Coke Zero appeals to men.

FoodNavigator’s Caroline Scott-Thomas is devastating in her critique of this strategy.  The “it’s not for women” campaign excludes half the market.

Not only that, she says, but the ad is:

patronizing to both men and women in its reinforcement of what I had (perhaps naively) hoped were outdated stereotypes….It deliberately picks at the edges of our comfort zones.  Is it OK to be sexist if it’s done with irony?…Provocation is a blunt instrument.  It may prove effective for sales—perhaps as effective as sexually explicit marketing—but it is still crude and obtuse.”

Finally, she asks: “Would this ad be offensive if it involved a bunch of redneck clichés and proclaimed ‘it’s not for blacks’?  You bet it would.”

In this era of food overabundance, marketers will do anything—anything—to sell products.  Water, anyone?

Jan 23 2012

Catching up with items about beverage marketing

I’ve been saving up items about beverages, mostly having to do with marketing:

Soda companies vs. civic public health campaigns: In strategies reminiscent of those used by tobacco companies, soda companies are filing suit to obtain documents from public agencies all over the country.  Digging them up takes staff time and effort and slows down the real work of these agencies—the point of this approach.

Sonic’s marketing campaign, Limeades for Learning (“when you sip, kids learn”) encourages purchasers of its high-calorie drinks (620 for a medium, 950 for a large) to vote for school projects.

Dr Pepper Snapple’s diet—oops, low-calorie—10-calorie Dr Pepper Ten is aimed at men.  Men, it seems, like low-calorie sodas but squirm at the notion of diet sodas.

Coke covers both bases.  Diet Coke targets women and Coke Zero targets men in an “it’s not for women” campaign.   Is this ad offensive?  It not only excludes half the market, says Food Navigator’s Carolyn Scott-Thomas, but is

patronizing to both men and women in its reinforcement of what I had (perhaps naively) hoped were outdated stereotypes….It deliberately picks at the edges of our comfort zones.  Is it OK to be sexist if it’s done with irony?…Provocation is a blunt instrument.  It may prove effective for sales—perhaps as effective as sexually explicit marketing—but it is still crude and obtuse.”

She asks: “Would this ad be offensive if it involved a bunch of redneck clichés and proclaimed ‘it’s not for blacks’?  You bet it would.”

Coca-Cola has launched a global music effort to connect with teens.  Coke CEO Muhtar Kent says:

Our success in growing our sparkling category today depends on our ability to grow and connect with teens, the generation of tomorrow.

Pepsi, not to be outdone, has invented a social marketing vending machine for the digital age.  Buy a drink and you now have the opportunity to send one as a gift to a friend or a random stranger.

The Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics weighs in on sports and energy drinks.  Its tough report begins with the statement that “Sports and energy drinks are being marketed to children and adolescents for a variety of inappropriate uses.”

Sports drinks…may contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring and are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.

In contrast…energy drinks also contain substances that act as nonnutritive stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, l-carnitine, creatine, and/or glucuronolactone, with purported ergogenic or performance-enhancing effects.

The report ends with this unambiguous conclusion:

the use of sports drinks in place of water on the sports field or in the school lunchroom is generally unnecessary. Stimulant containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.

In response, Red Bull says it is not marketing to children.  Instead, it says, the company totally follows the “agreed codes of practice for the marketing and labelling of energy drinks.”

Just for fun I looked up some advertising budgets reported in Advertising Age. For 2010, Coca-Cola spent $267 million just to advertise Coke, Pepsi spent $154 million just to advertise Pepsi and another $113 million for Gatorade, and Dr. Pepper spent a mere $22 million for Snapple.

These expenses are just for those individual products and just for campaigns run through advertising agencies.  Pepsi’s total advertising budget that year was $1.01 billion.

Water, anyone?




Dec 19 2011

Today’s oxymoron: a greener soda bottle

On the plastic bottle front, much is happening.

BPA plastics are banned from the European market, only to be replaced by other plastics that seem to have their own problems.  These are detailed in three articles in Food Additives and Contaminants dealing with the migration of chemicals from baby bottles.

  • Santillana et al.,  Migration of bisphenol A from polycarbonate baby bottles purchased in the Spanish market by liquid chromatography and fluorescence detection (2011); doi: 10.1080/19440049.2011.589036.
  • Simoneau, et al., Comparison of migration from polyethersulphone and polycarbonate baby bottles (2011) doi:10.1080/19440049.2011.604644.
  • Simoneau, et al.,  Identification and quantification of migration of chemicals from plastics baby bottles used as substitutes for polycarbonate, ( 2011); doi 10.1080/19440049.2011.644588.

In response to such concerns, soft drink companies are engaging in the latest form of “cola wars,” this time the race to greener bottles.  As the New York Times puts it,

Over their decades of competition, the battle between Coca-Cola and PepsiCo has taken on many colors — brown (cola), orange (juice), blue (sport drinks) and clear (water).

Now, they are fighting over green: The beverage rivals are racing to become the first to produce a plastic soda bottle made entirely from plants.

Coca-Cola has signed up with three biotechnology companies to produce materials for 100% plant-based bottles.  It already has some recyclable PlantBottles, but these are only 30% plant-based (mono-ethylene glycol, MEG).  The other 70% is purified terephthalic acid, PTA.  Coke says it will go to 100% plant-based by 2020.

PepsiCo says it is doing the same thing, only faster.

OK, plant-based.  But from what?

Coke says it is experimenting with Brazilian sugarcane, molasses, and other plant residue materials but might also use crops grown specifically for plastic production.  Pepsi says it will use agricultural waste products, such as corn husks, pine bark or orange peels.

What about corn?  Corn has already been used to produce plastics, but doing this is just like growing food crops for biofuels, causing land conversion, higher food prices, and heavy fertilizer use.

It will be good to get the harmful chemicals out of drink bottles.

But soft drinks are inherently wasteful of natural resources.  All the greenwashing in the world can’t hide that.

Nov 2 2011

IASO’s news feed

Oct 25 2011

Happy Food Day!

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) launched Food Day yesterday with a splendid lunch right in the middle of Times Square.  I got to be one of the lucky eaters.

The purpose of Food Day is to promote discussion of critical issues in agriculture, food, nutrition, and health.  Its goals:

  • Promote healthy eating.
  • Support sustainable farms.
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger.
  • Reform factory farms.
  • Curb junk-food marketing to kids.

For half an hour, it got big-time billboard coverage.

The lunch was nutritionally correct and quite delicious, thanks to Ellie Krieger who did the menus and is posed here with Mario Batali.

Tom Farley, director of New York City’s Health Department, gave the opening speech with updates on his department’s new “cut down on sodas” campaign.  For example: One soda a day translates to 50 pounds of sugar a year, and you have to walk three miles to burn off the calories in one 20-ounce soda!  He’s here with Michael Jacobson who has directed CSPI since the early 1970s.

Tom Chapin sang from his album for kids, “give peas a chance.”

It was all anyone needed to be inspired to join the food movement and sign up for the food day campaign!

Later addition: Mike Jacobson sent this one with Morgan Spurlock.

Oct 24 2011

On Denmark’s “fat tax”

I have a commentary in the October 23 issue of New Scientist (UK):

Cover of 22 October 2011 issue of New Scientist magazine

World’s first fat tax: what will it achieve?

Enviably healthy Denmark is leading the way in taxing unhealthy food. Why are they doing it, and will it work

THE Danish government’s now infamous “fat tax” has caused an international uproar, applauded by public health advocates on the one hand and dismissed on the other as nanny-state social engineering gone berserk.

I see it as one country’s attempt to stave off rising obesity rates, and its associated medical conditions, when other options seem less feasible. But the policies appear confusing. Why Denmark of all places? Why particular foods? Will such taxes really change eating behaviour? And aren’t there better ways to halt or reverse rising rates of diet-related chronic disease?

Before getting to these questions, let’s look at what Denmark has done. In 2009, its government announced a major tax overhaul aimed at cushioning the shock of the global economic crisis, promoting renewable energy, protecting the environment, discouraging climate change, and improving health – all while maintaining revenues, of course.

The tax reforms make it more expensive to produce products likely to harm the environment and to consume products potentially harmful to health, specifically tobacco, ice cream, chocolate, candy, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, and foods containing saturated fats.

Some of these taxes took effect last July. The current fuss is over the introduction this month of a tax on foods containing at least 2.3 per cent saturated fat, a category that includes margarine, salad and cooking oils, animal fats, and dairy products, but not – thanks to effective lobbying from the dairy industry – fluid milk.

Copenhagen is the home of René Redzepi’s Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant for the past two years. To Americans, “Danish” means highly calorific fruit – and cheese-filled breakfast pastries. Despite such culinary riches, the Nordic nation reports enviable health statistics and a social support system beyond the wildest imagination of inhabitants of many countries. Danish citizens are entitled to free or very low-cost childcare, education and healthcare. Cycle lanes and high taxes on cars make bicycles the preferred method for getting to school or work, even by 63 per cent of members of the Danish parliament, the Folketing.

Taxes pay for this through policies that maintain a relatively narrow gap between the incomes of rich and poor. The Danish population is literate and educated. Its adult smoking rate is 19 per cent. Its obesity rate is 13.4 per cent, below the European average of 15 per cent and a level not seen in the US since the 1970s. Denmark has long used the tax system to achieve health goals. It has taxed candy for nearly 90 years, and was the first country to ban trans-fats in 2003.

Because its level of income disparity is relatively low, the effects of health taxes are less hard on the poor than in many other countries. But the Danes want their health to be better. Obesity rates may be low by US standards, but they used to be lower – 9.5 per cent in 2000. Life expectancy in Denmark is 79 years, at least two years below that in Japan or Iceland. The stated goal of the tax policies is to increase life expectancy as well as to reduce the burden and cost of illness from diet-related diseases.

Like all taxes, the “health” taxes are supposed to raise revenue: 2.75 billion Danish kroner annually ($470 million). The tax on saturated fat is expected to account for more than one-third of that. Since all food fats – no exceptions – are mixtures of saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, the tax will have to be worked out food by food. Producers must do this, pay the tax, and pass the cost on to consumers.

Taxes on cigarettes are set high enough to discourage use, especially among young people. But the food taxes are low, 0.34 kroner on a litre of soft drinks, for example. The “fat” tax is 16 kroner per kilogram of saturated fat. In dollars, the taxes will add 12 cents to a bag of crisps and 40 cents to the price of a burger. Whether these amounts will discourage purchases remains to be seen.

Other countries are playing “me too” or waiting to see the results of Denmark’s experiment. Hungary has imposed a small tax on sweets, salty snacks, and sugary and caffeinated drinks and intends to use the revenues to offset healthcare costs. Romania and Iceland had such taxes but dropped them, whereas Finland and Ireland are considering them. Surprisingly, given his party’s anti-nanny state platform, UK prime minister David Cameron is suggesting food taxes to counter the nation’s burgeoning obesity crisis. The US has resisted calls for taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, not least because the soft drink companies spent millions of dollars on defeating such proposals.

Leaving aside the usual criticisms, such as the impact on poorer people, I have a different reason for being troubled by tax interventions. They aim to change individual behaviour, but do little to change the behaviour of corporations that make and market unhealthful products, spending vast fortunes to make them available, desirable and socially acceptable.

Today, more and more evidence demonstrates the importance of food environment factors, such as processing, cost and marketing, in influencing food choices (The Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60813-1). Raising taxes is one way to change that environment by influencing the cost to the consumer. But governments seriously concerned about reducing rates of chronic disease should also consider ways to regulate production of unhealthy products, along with the ways they are marketed.

In the meantime, let us congratulate Denmark on what could be viewed as a revolutionary experiment. I can’t wait to see the results.

Marion Nestle is the author of Food Politics and What To Eat and is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University

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