by Marion Nestle
Jun 2 2012

Is this an American Beverage Association ad in disguise?

If the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is placing ads attacking Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of soft drinks to 16 ounces (see yesterday’s post), he must have done something right.

CCF, as I have explained previously, is used as an attack dog by the National Restaurant Association and other food and beverage organizations to stave off criticism of their contributions to obesity, poor health, and environmental degradation.

It gets paid to use tactics that food and beverage companies are afraid to do on their own because they might offend customers or stockholders.  Its funders get to hide behind these tactics.

CCF does not disclose its contributors.  Could the American Beverage Association have paid CCF to do this ad?

Coke and Pepsi are prominent members of the Beverage Association.  If so, they are now on record in overt opposition to public health efforts.

I welcome statements from the American Beverage Association and its members to the contrary.

  • TJ

    So to be against government portion-size mandates is to be against public health? Wow. This is how we avoid progress, by setting “with us or against us” battle lines. If you don’t believe in the portion control mandate, then you must be anti-public health.

    Those of us who have studied economics and decision-making realize that prohibition doesn’t actually solve anything, and it often makes things much worse (cue the obvious alcohol prohibition and marijuana prohibition). I’m not saying there will be speakeasies of big gulps, but there are always unintended consequences of government intervention.

    Psychological warfare on the consumer’s mind is a constant practice for every corporation. Bloomberg just stood up to the beverage associations and said “Hey, want a free opportunity to lump all public health efforts to reduce sugar consumption together and fight them with the easy tagline that it is ‘government overreach’?”

    I truly believe Bloomberg is actually the one who is “on record in overt opposition to public health efforts.” He has set back soda tax progress by years by this silly ineffective portion control attempt.

    Unless… this is some genius strategy to make a soda tax look lenient. Maybe he is a few chess moves ahead of us, knowing his soda tax will be rejected, and he’ll move forward with the lesser alternative of a sugar tax, maybe even with the support of the beverage companies because it is a compromise. Hmmm…

  • TJ

    Sorry, in my last paragraph from above, Bloomberg knowing his soda *portion size mandate* (not tax) will be rejected, and he’ll be able to successfully move forward with a sugar tax.

    Should have proof-read better >_<

  • Thanks Marion, I appreciate that you take up these things. Will any other professor ever join you? Mozaffarian, any..?

  • Julia Mazer

    oh my goodness! this advertisement is hysterically repulsive! thanks for your brilliant informative posts, Professor Nestle.

  • This seems odd to me. We should be free to choose whatever we want with our own money. What we need are labels to help consumers make informed decisions and perhaps incentives for restaurants and convenience stores that offer healthy alternatives. A tax on soda does not take the choice away and seems fair. There’s a tax on beer, and if you aren’t driving, isn’t beer better for you than pepsi?

  • Rather than ban large soda drinks, how ’bout showing people how much sugar they consume on an annual basis by drinking just one 12-ounce can of Pepsi/Coke (or other sugar-laden drink) per day.

    It’s my contention every doctor/dentist’s office should have this pic in their waiting room. Of course, none do it.

    Take a look-see …

  • Anthro

    Ha! No denials!



    Are you implying that docs and dentists don’t care about sugar consumption because they don’t have your picture on the wall?

    Every dentist I’ve ever seen (and there are many) for myself and with my four children has discussed the danger of sugar for teeth. All docs I’ve talked to about weight or diabetes discussed sugar among other diet-related items. Also, is five gallons the same as five pounds? I should know, but can’t recall. I’m thinking that solids and liquids aren’t equivalent in terms of weight.

  • EP

    I am torn about this decision by Mayor Bloomberg. I think that one of the best things he’s done to assist consumers in making better food choices is mandate that calories get posted because most people have no idea how many calories are in the things they eat – I wish we could get that kind of open access to nutrition information here in Dallas. However, I do think that once you give consumers the information (e.g. your 32 oz big gulp has ### calories) you kind of have to leave them to their own destructive choice if they choose to make it. I do applaud him for trying some out of the box ideas for helping make NYers healthier, but restricting a business owner from selling products seems like a it might take it a step too far.

  • Joe

    I have reluctantly come to grips with the fact that some albeit a small group will support any type of government intervention into the lives of free people. What I am having a tougher time with is understanding how any citizen of the United States of America can support this type of government action. This is not the role of government at any level. Meddling in the personal lives concerning how people eat and drink is not what the government is supposed to do. I challenge anyone to show where this makes for good government. Oh you may get a warm fuzzy feeling because a law gets passed but in the end nothing will be any different

    Furthermore the Beverage industry would not be spending any money to lobby government if government were not trying to regulate them out of business. It is fine if anyone wants to believe that obesity is caused by big food and big beverage but it is only opinion and conjecture as a true cause for this opinion cannot be shown.

    What should be shut down are 95% of the public health programs that do no more to improve the health of the public more than the public could do on its own.

    Alas many will go on petitioning government to intervene and solve problems but those who do will always be always be disappointed.

  • Steph

    The price of the 16oz will just go up and people will start running buy-one-get-one sales on soda. I do think that people should be able to make their own decicion, but then you run into the problem that their destructive choices have long term problems that everyone may end up paying for via medicaid. I do not know the solution, I do not pretend to know the solution…education? regulation? corporate responsibility?

  • FarmerJane

    The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is considering banning cheese ads during children’s programming. The Irish Farmers Association is fighting this. Will be interesting to see who wins. The Irish farmers are opposed to positioning of their product as “junk food” when they are striving to keep a vibrant rural economy based upon their green grasslands.

  • Anthro

    Joe, you need to read up on the history of public health, as well as the evidence of the causes of childhood obesity.

    It is government’s responsibility to act in the interests of citizens, especially children and public health is a huge part of that responsibility.

  • Jarrod

    Those who are outraged at this ban act as if there aren’t billions of dollars being spent by these large beverage companies to get people to buy their products, the consumption of which is directly linked to obesity and all of the associated health problems that come along with it. The majority of Americans are bombarded, day in and day out, by advertisements telling them to consume these products, while the other side of the coin is rarely presented to them. How much is spent annually on the promotion of public health? On programs that help people learn to make healthier food choices? If people are so enraged that they cannot buy a large drink, they can buy two of a smaller size! This isn’t prohibition, people, this is portion control! And if you’ve eaten out at most American establishments, you’ll see that the average American meal’s portion size is wildly out of control compared to our daily caloric needs. This isn’t a California foie gras bill, this is factually based concern for public health.

  • People have been reacting to Bloomberg’s proposal, rather than thinking about what he’s trying to accomplish.

    Probably no one food is more responsible for obesity, especially among children, than sugar filled pop. In addition, unlike food, people never reach the “you’ve had enough” stage with pop–so they’ll just continue drinking, and drinking, and drinking.

    Bloomberg’s proposed rule doesn’t prohibit the person from buying more than one drink. Nor does it prohibit fast food places from providing free refills. What it does do is stop the increasingly obscene cup sizes that fast food places roll out as a way of cheaply making the consumer think they’re getting more for their fast food dollar.

    It forces people to think before they continue to drink. If they are really that thirsty, they can go back for another. This law does not restrict people from drinking the pop; it only puts a maximum size on the cups. It breaks up the pattern of mindless soda drinking.

    In a land where obesity is becoming a serious problem, how can anyone–anyone–defend cup sizes so large, a small dog could use them as a swimming pool.

    How can anyone join in defending the practices of companies that don’t care about the health of their customers, and that use sleazy organizations such as CCF as front for their attacks?

  • Let’s ignore for a moment the incredible amount of evidence showing just how awful sugary drinks are for your health and talk about common sense.

    People are outraged that he is limiting the portion size to 16oz. 16oz is not a small soda! As a recent transplant to Europe, I can tell you that the portion size being bickered about in Bloomberg’s plan is absolutely enormous compared to the typical european portion size of soda. A 16oz bottle of soda might even be shared by two people.

    No one needs to drink soda, and certainly not more than 16oz of soda. The collective portion size norm in the US is so bloated and out of whack that government has to step in lest they be crippled by the mounting health care costs from obesity and diabetes.

    And as one of the commenters said, this is no longer about ‘personal responsibility’ when the beverage companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars marketing their products in increasingly pernicious ways. Its about time government started standing up to the bully on behalf of its citizens.

  • TJ


    You have to understand that there are many of us out there who do not believe portion control and calorie-counting have anything to do with weight gain. We are worried that people like Bloomberg (and, Marion) will ultimately try to portion control not just soda, but anything that is calorically dense. So our outrage is directed at nutritional authorities and governments who think they know what is best for us, and want to mandate that we eat less calories per meal, eat more carbs and less fat etc. Well, they are wrong, in our opinion (scientifically and morally), and will only do more damage with dictator-like authority over what we can and cannot eat.

  • Mike

    This is a ridiculous opening statement. That CCF is criticizing Bloomberg in no way means he’s doing something right. It only means CCF’s clients feel their ox may be gored. It’s that simple.

  • I have met 3 people who competed in food/drink contests. 2 died and one has been challenged again. The woman who was challenged again is a beautiful 21 year old who ate 47 pieces of pizza. Knowing how much weight our stomachs can hold is much more important than knowing how many calories a drink has. I used to drink a 2 litre diet drink every day instead of eating. Not great for fertility. And we wonder why women cannot have babies? Weigh your food please!
    Eat 2 pounds of food a day! It is a lot of food!

  • Bsan

    A little off-topic, but as an anthropologist interested in food and nutrition I find the above add image fascinating for the three foods the campaign chose to use as examples: pizza, hamburgers, and bagels. My brain immediately clicked into “what could be more American or New York than those three things?” Only hot dogs. The add hits a spot using food as a symbol of the American way of life.

    I honestly don’t know what the fuss is about here. Soda is not helping anyone get anywhere, it is simply a treat. If you want more than the size limit, you’ll have to buy two. It’s kind of ridiculous that we have come to a point where policymakers feel it is in our best interest to limit our access to soda. That’s really an absurd problem to have. I will watch from the sidelines with interest, but as someone who doesn’t even like soda (and other added-sugar drinks) to begin with (too sweet for me), I feel biased in my disinterest in how large a soda I’m allowed to buy in New York.

  • Cathy Richards

    We accept — actually we EXPECT — the government as nannies in so many areas of our lives.

    Let’s take one small example:
    traffic control (lines on road, stop lights, stop signs, speed limits, parking restrictions) that restricts our freedom to drive on the left side of the road, to park near fire hydrants, to allow others a chance to get through the intersection, to make it safe for people to cross the street, etc etc.

    We don’t leave traffic control up to “education and self-responsibility”. We educate, we regulate, we monitor, we correct as needed, and we enforce.

    Oh heck – one more example: food safety. Restaurants are inspected to make sure they aren’t selling us contaminated food. That’s for our health and safety. It’s not that big a stretch to think that uncontaminated food might be a health risk as well, and that education is not enough — limits, enforcement are needed to prevent businesses from taking advantage of typical consumer behavior. That’s what government does!!!! Or at least, it’s what it should do.

  • Cactus Wren

    The thing is that people don’t realize how many calories they’re taking in when they drink soda. I’m trying to find a link to a study in which college students, AFTER BEING INFORMED that there were 100 calories in an 8-ounce serving of soda, were asked to estimate how many calories were in a 64-oz “Double Gulp”: many of them said it might contain 250 to 300 calories. When asked to explain their reasoning (64 / 8 = 8, so the Double Gulp is 8 servings), they said quite seriously that it wouldn’t be *possible* for a mere beverage to measure 800 calories.

  • Cactus Wren

    Addendum: found it!

    Emphasis mine:

    “Recently Lisa Young, a colleague of Dr. Nestle at New York University, asked the STUDENTS IN HER NUTRITION CLASS how many calories were in a Double Gulp, a 64-ounce soda available at 7-Eleven convenience stores. She’d already told them that an eight-ounce soda has 100 calories, but the students guessed a Double Gulp contains less than 400 calories.”

  • Margeretrc

    @TJ Well said.
    @Cathy Richards, all those examples you cited are legitimate functions of the government’s responsibility to prevent others from hurting us–or us from hurting each other. It is not government’s job to keep us from hurting ourselves.
    I don’t drink soda, I don’t live in New York City, and I most certainly don’t have any financial ties to any industry that produces soda or anything else–or the Center for Consumer Freedom, for that matter. But I agree with the people who think this is a bad idea. What’s next? Dictating how much fat is in a burger, how much butter one can buy at one time? Perhaps they’ll disallow selling whole milk. Sorry, even if this were to succeed, which I suspect it won’t–as @Shelly said, most people are simply going to buy two or go back for refills–it’s meddling where government has no business meddling. And taxing soda, which is cheap because of corn subsidies, doesn’t make any sense. Just get rid of the subsidies!

  • A Critic

    “I do applaud him for trying some out of the box ideas for helping make NYers healthier”

    Those aren’t out of the box ideas – those ideas ARE the box! It’s actually more of a cell, prison cell that is.

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  • People should be given a choice, this is a free country after all.

  • Daniel Factor

    Oh how terrible an organization that opposes big brother health cops dictating what people can and cannot eat and who actually believe people are NOT too stupid to make up their own minds over what to eat and drink and DON’T need self appointed food and drinks cops doing it for them!
    Oh how wicked and evil and in the pocket of food and drinks companies they are!