by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Mar 25 2019

Industry-influenced study of the week: sugars v. calories

Unsavory Truth came out late last year, but I’m following up by posting recent examples of the issues it covers.  Here, for example, is a recent study that caught my eye:

The role of dietary sugars in health: molecular composition or just calories?  Philip Prinz. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2019).

A big argument in nutrition right now is whether the metabolic dysfunction that results from excessive consumption of sugars is due to the sugars themselves or to the calories they produce (or, I suppose, to both).

The author who attempted to answer this question conducted a lengthy and detailed review of research on the effects of sugars on obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions .  His conclusion:

Current scientific evidence does not support the conclusion that dietary sugars themselves are detrimental to human health and the cause of obesity as well as NCDs [non-communicable— chronic—diseases]. Data from human studies clearly shows that it is the excess amount of calories, also consumed in form of dietary sugars, that promotes obesity and with that favors NCDs. For sucrose, further research is needed in order to evaluate the relevance of its molecular composition, especially in comparison with other macronutrients.

In other words, you don’t have to worry about sugars; just don’t overeat anything.

So, who paid for this?

The paper provides no disclosures of funding or conflicted interests.

But if you click on Philip Prinz, you will see that he is with the Department of Nutritional Sciences, German Sugar Association, Berlin, Germany

Comment

My interpretation of this literature generally favors calories (see my book with Malden Nesheim, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics).  As I see it, when it comes to weight gain, how much you eat matters more than what you eat, especially if your diet is reasonably healthy.

But I would be much more confident in conclusions like these if they came from a researcher whose salary did not depend on producing desirable results for a sugar association.

And everybody would be better off eating less sugar, for reasons of nutritional health, if not necessarily weight.

Feb 19 2019

The Corn Refiners Association responds

In response to my post of last week on Bud Light’s use of corn syrup as a means to attack competing beer companies, I received this note from John Bode, the president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association.

I met Mr. Bode years ago, when I was working in Washington DC and he was assistant secretary for agriculture under President Reagan, and we continue to correspond occasionally.

Dear Marion,

I realize you disagree with various policy positions the Corn Refiners Association has taken, but your characterization of CRA as promoting corn syrup and HFCS is out of date.  Since shortly after I joined the association five years ago, CRA policy has forbid promotion of increased consumption of corn sweeteners and other nutritive sweeteners.

As noted on our website and in comments we’ve made in comments regarding federal food regulations, we do not promote the increased consumption of sugars – “CRA recognizes that many Americans need to reduce their total intake of calories, including calories from sugars and sweeteners, thus CRA does not promote increased consumption of sugars or other caloric sources.” (see website)

I hope you find this information helpful.

As I discussed in my book, Unsavory Truth, I had some bad experiences with the CRA in its pre-Bode era.  Mr. Bode is trying to do better but it’s tough to represent sugars of any kind these days.  I appreciate his writing to me and granting permission to reproduce his note.

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?

Oct 22 2018

Unsavory Truth: A peek at chapter 4

I just got an advance copy of my new book about food company sponsorship of nutrition research and its effects on public health—to be published next week on October 30.

To get a taste (sorry) of the book, here are the first two pages of chapter 4.  If you would like to read the Sugar Association’s letter to me and my reply, I’ve included links to them after this excerpt.

Want to read the rest of the letter and my reply?

Aug 7 2018

Mars Wrigley says you are not eating enough candy. It wants to fix that.

Candy makers, like all food producers, want to sell more of their products.  From the standpoint of Mars Wrigley Confectionary, you need to eat more candy.

By some accounts, the US doesn’t even rank in the top ten countries in per capita candy consumption.  The Census Bureau says the average American—does this mean you?—consumes 22 pounds of candy per year.

Candy sales come in peaks.

Mars—now Mars Wrigley—wants to fix that.

Its research shows that you find the candy aisle difficult to manage.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery surveyed 1,000 Americans last year to understand how Millennials and Baby Boomers experience treats as well as the role of social media in treating.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery has begun working with retailers to put these recommendations into action. The company has created a framework that unlocks the power of confectionery at the point of purchase — online and in-stores.

Its Path to Purchase strategy advises retailers to:

  • Display candy in high-traffic areas
  • Promote key moments with candy brands
  • Maximize promotional space
  • Transition to stand-up pouches (these encourage sales)
  • Use micro-gifts to encourage customers to “shop, ship and secretly gift ‘boo’ packages and build their own ‘boo’ bundles.’”

At the same time,

Mars Wrigley Confectionery knows through its research that consumers view candy as a treat and continue to enjoy it as part of a balanced lifestyle, especially Millennials. In response, it’s important retailers provide consumers with a range of formats, calories and price options to drive sales.

A few examples include:

  • More options for share sizes and resealable packaging.
  • 100-calorie bars and packs, such as those available for SkittlesDoveTwix and Snickers.
  • Low calories gum choices such as ExtraJuicy Fruit and gum.

You are not supposed to notice any of this.  Mars wants you to buy more candy.  You are a lot better off buying less.

If you find yourself buying more candy, take a close look at how and where it is displayed.

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Jun 8 2018

UK report on sugar reduction: “encouraging start”

Public Health England has a report out on how the country’s food industry is doing with its pledges to reduce sugar.

The goal was to reduce sugar in the most popular food products by 20% by 2020:

The results: about a 2% reduction in food products, but an 11% reduction in drinks.

Public Health England considers this an “encouraging start.”

The Guardian says the food industry has failed to meet its targets.

Here’s how Public Health England explains all this:

If this is going to work, all food companies must set targets and take action to meet them.

We could do this here….?

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Jun 4 2018

US vetoes any mention of soda taxes in WHO committee report on preventing noncommunicable (chronic) disease

The AP reports that the reason the WHO committee on preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) did not recommend soda taxes is that the US representative vetoed the idea.

The Trump administration has torpedoed a plan to recommend higher taxes on sugary drinks, forcing a World Health Organization panel to back off the U.N. agency’s previous call for such taxes as a way to fight obesity, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions.

The move disappointed many public health experts but was enthusiastically welcomed by the International Food and Beverage Alliance — a group that represents companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo. and Unilever.

The WHO committee’s report appeared in The Lancet last week.  About soda taxes, it said:

The Commissioners represented rich and diverse views and perspectives. There was broad agreement in most areas, but some views were conflicting and could not be resolved. As such, some recommendations, such as reducing sugar consumption through effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and the accountability of the private sector, could not be reflected in this report, despite broad support from many Commissioners.

It did not include soda taxes in its tax recommendation:

Implement fiscal measures, including raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and consider evidence-based fiscal measures for other unhealthy products.

This omission is striking in view of WHO’s strong previous positions on the need to reduce NCDs as part of the agency’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and on reducing sugars and taxing sodas as a means to achieve those goals:

Again a US veto?  Recall the infamous incident in 2003 when the US blocked the agency from recommending a reduction in sugar intake.

The US should not be holding WHO hostage to public health measures.

WHO should not be caving in to US threats.

NCDs are the major cause of worldwide death and disability and we need worldwide efforts to prevent them.  This calls for cooperation, not blackmail.

Shame.

May 21 2018

Sugar policy: absurd but apparently permanent

The House version of the farm bill is in a mess right now and there is much to say about both its process (highly politicized) and content (thoughtless, mean-spirited, and just plain nasty).  I will be singling out specific pieces for comment every now and then.

Let’s start with a proposed amendment that the House soundly defeated.  AP reporter Candace Choi succinctly summarized the significance of this defeat: Big Sugar beats back Big Candy.

I’ve discussed our absurd Big Sugar policy in previous posts.

For decades, despite endless reform attempts, U.S. sugar policy has protected the interests of producers of sugar cane and sugar beets.

Basically, current policy maintains the price of domestic sugar at a level higher than the market price in order to protect politically powerful sugar cane growers in Louisiana and Florida, and somewhat less powerful—but far more numerous—growers of sugar beets.

American consumers pay more for sugar, but only an average of $10 per capita per year, not enough to get people upset.

The big losers are candy makers and other commercial users of cane and beet sugars.  Soft drink makers are relatively unaffected because they mostly use high fructose corn sweeteners.

Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) sponsored an amendment to the farm bill that would require the sugar industry to repay the government if and when its loan program operates at a loss.

The sugar program is not supposed to cost taxpayers any money because it keeps prices high enough so that loans get paid back.  But in 2013, prices fell and the USDA had to buy surplus sugar at a loss of $259 million. The Congressional Budget Office says that the sugar program will cost about taxpayers about $76 million over the next decade.

Nevertheless the House defeated the sugar amendment by a vote of 137 to 278.  How come?  Louisiana and Florida are key election states.  Sugar beet growers operate in practically every northern state in the U.S.

The successful fight to defeat the amendment was led by the American Sugar Alliance.  The Washington Post reports how the Alliance paid for an advertising campaign positioning the growers it represents as victims.

A full-page ad in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal featured a picture of two Louisiana sugar planters and the words: “Excluding us from loans available to other crops isn’t ‘modest reform,’ it’s discriminatory. Don’t cut sugar farmers out of the Farm Bill. Oppose harmful amendments.”

And so the House did.

This is only the latest episode in attempts to reform sugar policy.  Chalk this one up as a win for Big Sugar, as Candace Choi so nicely pointed out.

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