by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Soft drinks

Nov 6 2019

Soda industry hypocrisy: recycling

I was fascinated to see this ad in the October 24 New York Times extolling Coke, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper’s commitment to improve recycling.

The ad says “We’re all in…But we need your help to change how America recycles.”

Sure.  Happy to.  But these companies are among the leading plastic polluters in the world, according to the latest audit.

So how about:

  1.  Stop producing so much waste in the first place
  2.  Stop fighting bottle recycling laws.

I just read the Intercept’s investigative report on Coca-Cola’s overt and covert opposition to recycling laws: “LEAKED AUDIO REVEALS HOW COCA-COLA UNDERMINES PLASTIC RECYCLING EFFORTS.”

As the article explains:

States with bottle bills recycle about 60 percent of their bottles and cans, as opposed to 24 percent in other states. And states that have bottle bills also have an average of 40 percent less beverage container litter on their coasts, according to a 2018 study of the U.S. and Australia published in the journal Marine Policy.

But bottle bills also put some of the responsibility — and cost — of recycling back on the companies that produce the waste, which may be why Coke and other soda companies have long fought against them.

Soda companies would much rather have us clean up the mess they make.

Mind you, I’m for cleaning up that mess and am happy to help.  But I also want bottle recycling laws that give us an incentive to take back all that waste.

 

Oct 9 2019

Sugar reduction in the UK: Taxes work, voluntary does not

I was alerted to this story by the FoodNavigator-USA headline: Sugar content in soft drinks cut by nearly a third as voluntary efforts fall way off target.

Public Health England’s latest progress report on the food and drink industry’s sugar cutting efforts reveal significant changes in areas where the sugar tax applies, but a disappointing lack of progress with the voluntary sugar reduction programme.

The Year 2 progress report finds:

  • The sugar in taxed drinks affected by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) decreased by 28.8% between 2015 and 2018.
  • For non-taxed products, the reduction in sugar was only 2.9%.
  • Total sugar increased by 2.6%: the largest increases were for ice cream, candies, sweet spreads, and cookies.

Moral: if you want companies to reduce sugar in their products, tax them.

Jul 23 2019

Coca-Cola wants the FDA to let it add vitamins to drinks

Thanks to Elaine Watson at FoodNavigator-USA for writing about Coca-Cola’s efforts to get the FDA to let it put vitamins in its drinks.  OK, its “healthier” drinks.

Historically, the FDA discouraged (putting it mildly) makers of candy and other junk foods from adding vitamins so they could be marketed as “healthy.”  This was known as the “jelly bean rule.”   Vitamins could not be added to jelly beans—or Coca-Cola.

It’s not really a formal rule, but here’s what the FDA says in 21CFR104.20:  ​

The Food and Drug Administration does not encourage indiscriminate addition of nutrients to foods, nor does it consider it appropriate to fortify fresh produce; meat, poultry, or fish products; sugars; or snack foods such as candies and carbonated beverages.

But what about the exceptions?

  • Gummy Bears: vitamins are be added to gummy bears, but these are typically sold as dietary supplements, not foods. They can do this because the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 authorized much looser rules for supplements.  Even though gummy bears are candy, the FDA isn’t going to fight this one.
  • Glaceau Vitamin Water:  Coca-Cola now owns this company. Some Vitamin Waters have as much sugar as a Coke.  They have Nutrition Facts labels and are marketed as foods, and look to me to be in violation of the jelly bean rule,.  The FDA hasn’t done anything about them, even though they are vitamin-enriched sugar water.  If you have any idea why not, please tell me.

For decades, Coca-Cola has tried to get the FDA to ease up on the jelly bean rule.  Now it is trying again.

Its argument?  The rule, by not allowing the addition of vitamins to sugary teas and coffees, stifles innovation.

Its assurance?  It won’t add vitamins to Coke, but will add them to its other, presumably “healthier” (meaning, I suppose, less sugary) beverages.

As I wrote earlier, candy makers are trying this trick too.

I wonder how long the FDA can hold out on this one.  I wish it luck.

Apr 22 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Coca-Cola again

Here is a summary of another funded study with results the funder must love.

Joint associations between weekday and weekend physical activity or sedentary time and childhood obesity.  Li N, and 19 additional authors for the ISCOLE Research Group. International Journal of Obesity (2019) 43:691–700.

Conclusions: Lower levels of MVPA [moderate to vigorous physical activity] or higher levels of sedentary time on either weekdays or weekend were associated with increased odds of obesity in 9–11 year old children in 12 countries.

Funding: The International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment (ISCOLE) was funded by The Coca-Cola Company… With the exception of requiring that the study be global in nature, the funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.

Comment: This is another paper from the ISCOLE study funded by Coca-Cola, that seems to be aimed at casting doubt on the idea that sugary beverages might promote weight gain.  Instead, these results suggest that physical activity is a more important factor.  Of course physical activity is important for health, but doesn’t expend nearly as many calories as is usually needed to compensate for soft drink intake.

I learned about this study from a Weighty Matters blog post by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who runs a weight management center in Ottawa.  In his view, the ISCOLE study ignores evidence that childhood obesity is a determinant of physical activity, “not the other way around.”

He also questions the “no influence” statement in the funding disclosure, on the basis of

emails between ISCOLE investigators and Coca-Cola that not surprisingly suggests that these relationships have the very real potential to influence the framing of results even if funders [are] not involved in study design.

As I discuss in Unsavory Truth, the influence of food-industry funders appears to occur at an unconscious level; investigators do not recognize the influence and typically deny it.

As I also discuss in that book, Coca-Cola generously funded the ISCOLE study some years ago.  It has since changed its policy on research funding.

Apr 16 2019

Comment on a study correlating sugary beverages to mortality

I am occasionally asked to comment on new studies that appear.  Practice Update: Diabetes asked for a comment on this study:

VS Malik, et al.  Long-Term Consumption of Sugar Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Mortality in US Adults. Circulation. 2019;139:00–00. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.037401

The study concluded: “Consumption of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] was positively associated with mortality primarily through CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality and showed a graded association with dose. The positive association between high intake levels of ASBs [artificially sweetened beverages] and total and CVD mortality observed among women requires further confirmation.”

Here’s what I said:

This study is based on analyses of data from two remarkably large and long-standing investigations of diet and disease risk. The investigators looked for correlations between mortality and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and found them. More than two SSB servings a day was associated with higher mortality, particularly from cardiovascular disease, and, to a lesser extent, cancer.

Thus, this study adds to the increasing body of evidence associating SSBs with poor health. SSBs provide calories, but nothing of nutritional value. Other studies correlate SSBs with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. A further correlation with increased mortality is not surprising, but it is good to have it confirmed.

These results associate high intake of SSBs with disease risk, but cannot prove that SSBs causedisease. Epidemiological studies like these, based on self-reported dietary data, require careful interpretation. In part, this is because intake of SSBs tracks closely with other lifestyle characteristics. Heavy SSB users tend to be more sedentary, more likely to smoke, to consume more meat and calories, but to eat fewer vegetables than light users—overall, to have less healthy dietary habits in general. Still, reducing or eliminating SSB intake is harmless and could well improve health.

Oct 24 2018

The soda industry is having trouble meeting calorie targets

In 2014, the soda industry (American Beverage Industry, Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper) and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation) pledged to reduce calories in its beverages as a means to help with weight control.  The pledge was to reduce calories in sugary drinks by 20% by 2025.

At the moment, achievement of this goal seems unlikely according to a report by the American Beverage Association and the Alliance. 

The overall summary: a 3 (!) calorie per person per day reduction since 2014.

Plotting the data this way makes the change seem significant, but this industry has a long way to go.

Why isn’t it doing better?  The simple answer: sugary drinks sell and are highly profitable.

The report explains the trends:

  • A decline in consumption of carbonated soft drinks, but an increase in consumption of sugary sports drinks, energy drinks, and ready-to-drink teas and coffees.
  • A decline in retail sales of carbonated soft drinks, but an increase in calories from fountain drinks and food service.
  • An increase in sales of smaller-size containers, but also an increase in sales of larger containers.

The report does not give advertising figures.

I’d like to know which products are getting the most marketing dollars.   Want to take a guess?

Sep 19 2018

Soda company pouring rights contracts: exposed!

I first wrote about soda company pouring rights contracts in 2000.  I also discussed these contracts in Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).

These contracts are still a big issue, at least at the college level.

A site called MuckRock has just published an analysis of 38 pouring rights contracts, which it obtained through open-records requests from public universities.

Good for them!  The contracts make riveting reading.

Coke and Pepsi compete for these contracts and it is easy to understand why.  They provide for exclusive sales of the winning company’s products on school campuses.

The companies give the schools money, often in the millions.  In return, the schools are required to promote—heavily—the contracted products.

As MuckRock documents, the contracts demand lots of space and exposure for the products.  They turn colleges and universities into pushers of sugary beverages.  This, at a time when everyone would be healthier avoiding sugary drinks or consuming them in small amounts.

MuckRock posts the contracts so you can read them for yourself.

Is your college not listed?  MuchRock says:

Well, we want to expand our survey to your school, too. Help us out by sending us the name of a public college or university, and we’ll submit a request for its alliance in the Battle of the Colas.

This is great investigative reporting.  When I wrote my 2000 article, I based it on one contract leaked to me by a school food official appalled by this marketing technique.  At the time, Coke and Pepsi were contracting with junior high and elementary schools.  Fortunately, they have stopped doing that and are now concentrating on older kids.

That’s some progress, I guess.

Want to get pouring rights off of your campus?  Good luck with that.  This is a perfect example of money vs. public healh.  Guess which is more likely to win.

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Jan 29 2018

Soft drinks: anything that sells

The soft drink industry is in big trouble.  Sugary drinks aren’t great for health, and sales are down.  But this industry keeps trying.

I’m starting to collect interesting innovations.  Would you believe?

Yum?