by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Soft drinks

Feb 14 2024

The World Health Organization: Health Taxes (e.g., on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages)

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has long led efforts to tax unhealthy products, starting with tobacco.

WHO describes its health tax efforts here.

It recently issued Global report on the use of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, 2023.

The report finds that 108 countries have some kind of tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

But, it finds

Less than a quarter of countries surveyed account for sugar content when they impose taxes on these non-alcoholic beverage products. Countries with a sufficiently strong tax administrative capacity are encouraged to tax beverages based on sugar content, as it can encourage consumers to substitute with alternatives that have lower sugar content as well as incentivize the industry to reformulate beverages to contain less sugar.

One of its major overall findings:

Among its conclusions are these:

  • Existing taxes on SSBs could be further leveraged to decrease affordability and thereby reduce consumption. While other perspectives and competing factors have to be accounted for when designing taxation policies, the protection of health should be a key consideration, particularly considering the health and economic burden associated with obesity and diet-related NCDs.
  • This report concludes that excise taxes on SSBs are not currently being used to their fullest potential. Improving tax policy and increasing taxes so that SSBs become less affordable should be pursued more systematically by countries in order to effectively reduce consumption and prevent and control diet-related NCDs, including obesity and dental caries.

Here’s the evidence.  Get to work!


Nov 29 2023

RIP Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), maybe for good this time?

The FDA says it is proposing to revoke the regulation authorizing the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in food.  In  transslation from FDA-speak, the agendy now intends to ban BVO.

This is the second time I have written an RIP for BVO.  The first was in 2013—ten years ago!— when PepsiCo said it no longer use BVO in Gatorade in response to a petition from a teenage influencer.

BVO, a flame retardent, is made by adding bromine to vegetable oil.  Studies for years have found BVO to cause neurological and other health problems.  The FDA says:

In our 2014 review, we identified four unresolved safety questions with respect to the use of BVO in food: the potential for thyroid toxicity, bioaccumulation, developmental neurotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity. We determined that the safety data and information available did not provide evidence of a health threat resulting from the limited permitted use of BVO as a flavoring stabilizer in fruit-flavored beverages,…We concluded that high-quality data from contemporary studies, performed under current guideline standards, were needed to address the knowledge gaps regarding the safety of BVO …. The rodent safety studies…confirmed previous reports that dietary exposure to BVO is toxic to the thyroid and results in bioaccumulation of lipid-bound bromine in the body at doses relevant to human exposure.

OK, but this FDA action has an even longer history, and shockingly so.

In 1970, the FDA ruled that BVO could no longer be considered “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), but took no further action saying removing it was not much of a priority.

The UK banned it isoon after; the European Union got rid of it in 2008.  But the FDA did not.

In summary, the FDA has been worried about BVO since 1970 but is only just now getting around to banning it.

Why?  I can only speculate.

  • The soft drink industry is losing power now that people view it as producing unhealthy products.
  • California recently took the lead and banned BVO along with three other questionably safe additives.
  • Or maybe it just didn’t judge the evidence for harm as adequate.

Better now than never.


Jul 14 2023

Weekend reading: is aspartame a carcinogen?

The long-awaited report on aspartame from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the WHO and FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) are now out.  These agencies jointly issued two documents.

A press release

Citing “limited evidence” for carcinogenicity in humans, IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans (IARC Group 2B) and JECFA reaffirmed the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg body weight.

A summary of the findings

  • The [IARC] working group classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) based on limited evidence for cancer in humans (for hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer)…There was also limited evidence for cancer in experimental animals…In addition, there was limited mechanistic evidence that aspartame exhibits key characteristics of carcinogens, based on consistent and coherent evidence that aspartame induces oxidative stress in experimental systems and suggestive evidence that aspartame induces chronic inflammation and alters cell proliferation, cell death and nutrient supply in experimental systems.
  • The [JEFCA] Committee concluded that the data evaluated during the meeting indicated no reason to change the previously established acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0–40 mg/kg body weight for aspartame. The Committee therefore reaffirmed the ADI of 0–40 mg/kg body weight for aspartame…Based on the results of the oral carcinogenicity studies of aspartame, the absence of evidence of genotoxicity, and a lack of evidence on a mechanism by which oral exposure to aspartame could induce cancer, the Committee concluded that it is not possible to establish a link between aspartame exposure in animals and the appearance of cancer.

If this feels crazy-making, I’m with you.

For starters, I’ve never seen a scientific report released this way—essentially by leakage and press release before the research is published where it can be reviewed independently.

To summarize the chronology:

  1. Research article in Lancet Oncology:  Carcinogenicity of aspartame, isoeugenol, and methyleugenol 
  2. Infographic
  3. Q & A
  4. Featured News page on the evaluation of aspartame

Here’s what I think of all this: if aspartame is a carcinogen, it’s a weak one.

But it is artificial and off my dietary radar.  It’s not essential in human diets.  I don’t like its taste and I don’t like all the iffy questions about how it is metabolized.  I avoid it.

You don’t want to avoid it?  JEFCA says you can have 9 to 14 cans of diet soda a day without exceeding tolerable limits.  If you want one once in a while, it is highly unlikely to hurt you.

But a much better idea is getting out of the sweetened-drinks habit.  If you must have something sweet to drink, try adding fruit juice to water.

Jun 15 2023

Innovations in food product development: now we have to deal with AI?

I am indebted to the daily newsletter, Food Navigator Europe, for keeping me up to date on the latest developments in European food marketing.

With all of the fuss at my university about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way we live, I was riveted by this article.

Artificial intelligence designs soda for Swiss market: ‘We were gripped by AI fever’

Its subtitle: It took just two days for Swiss beverage company Vivi Kola to develop the artificial intelligence-designed beverage using ChatGPT, Midjourney and Unreal Engine.

AI to make yet another sugary drink?  THIS is what AI is being used for?

Gripped by AI fever, the Vivi Kola team found that by leveraging AI tools, it was able to develop a low-sugar, vegan soda product with health benefits within just two days.

First steps involved asking ChatGPT to develop a vegan recipe using ingredients with known health benefits. The response included water, lime juice, haskap berry juice, ginger juice, chicory root powder, and cane sugar…According to ChatGPT, the drink would be full of antioxidants, strengthen the immune system, promote a healthy gut, and stimulate digestion.

The Vivi Kola team procured the ingredients, combined them, and conducted first taste tests.

Oh great.  Ultraprocessed foods created by AI.  Just what we (don’t) need.

Jun 1 2023

Annals of marketing: the American Beverage Association

The American Beverage Association, which represents Big (and also Medium) Soda, is now advertising in Politico.

America’s leading beverage companies – The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo – are bringing consumers more choices with less sugar. From sparkling, flavored and bottled waters to zero sugar sodas, sports drinks, juices and teas, consumers have more options than ever. In fact, nearly 60% of beverages sold today have zero sugar. Americans are looking for more choices to support their efforts to find balance, and America’s beverage companies are delivering. Explore choices at

My translation: The ABA is saying: “We produce plenty of water and diet sodas.  If you insist on drinking full sugar sodas, it’s not our fault.  (Never mind that we sink fortunes into advertising our full-sugar drinks…).”
Feb 24 2023

Weekend reading: food politics items of unusual interest

New product launches

Chocolate hazards

Research breakthroughs



Marshmallows and upcycled sawdust.  Yum?

Chocolate is always in the news for one reason or another.

As for cinnamon and cognitive function, if only.  The authors declare no conflicted interests.


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Jan 13 2023

Weekend reading: fact sheets on sugar-sweetened beverages

I was sent a note from the University of California Research Consortium on Beverages and Health about its new fact sheets on sugar-sweetened beverages done in collaboration with the American Heart Association.  The Consortium includes faculty who work on some aspect of sugar science on all ten UC campuses.

Factsheets and Infographics on the UC Research Consortium on Beverages and Health webpage:

They also can be accessed from UC’s Nutrition Policy Institute publications page.


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Jan 11 2023

WHO calls for soda taxes

For your calendar today at 6:30 pm EST:


The World Health Organization has taken a major step: it calls on member countries to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages can be a powerful tool to promote health because they save lives and prevent disease, while advancing health equity and mobilizing revenue for countries that could be used to realize universal health coverage,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.

SSB, tobacco, and alcohol taxes have proven to be cost-effective ways of preventing diseases, injuries, and premature mortality. SSB tax can also encourage companies to reformulate their products to reduce sugar content.

More than that, WHO has produced a manual on how to develop and implement SSB taxation policies.

This tax manual is a practical guide for policy-makers and others involved in SSB tax policy development to promote healthy diets and populations. It features summaries and case studies of SSB global taxation evidence, and provides support on the policy-cycle development process to implement SSB taxation — from problem identification and situation analysis through policy design, development and implementation to the monitoring and evaluation phase. Additionally, the manual identifies and debunks industry tactics designed to dissuade policy-makers from implementing these taxes.

SSB taxes can be a win-win-win strategy: a win for public health (and averted health-care costs), a win for government revenue, and a win for health equity.

The manual summarizes everything anyone needs to know to justify taxes and to craft policy.  Get to work!


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