Tag Archives: soft drink

Federal Subsidies for Soda?

I recently read a great editorial blog from the Huffington Post.  It made the great argument that soda in this country is being subsidized by the government.  It’s not being subsidized in the traditional way that, say, corn is, but that’s semantics.  The way it is being subsidized is by allowing people to use the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formally known as food stamps) to buy sugary soda with their money provided by tax payers.  The government doesn’t allow SNAP to be used to buy alcohol or tobacco so why would it let people buy a product that is just as bad for your health as those two are?  Below is the entire blog.  It’s written by Michael F. Jacobson Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Let me know what you think.

Blog Entry

Forty-three million Americans depend on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, to help provide the foods they need for good health. SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is a critically important part of the government’s safety net and has become even more vital to low-income families since the economic downturn.

The program distributes benefits via an Electronic Benefits Card that can be swiped at participating supermarkets and, increasingly, farmer’s markets. But the benefits cannot be used to purchase tobacco, alcoholic beverages, supplement pills, hot prepared foods, and non-food items. For those products, SNAP recipients must use their own money.

Unfortunately, huge amounts of SNAP dollars are used to purchase carbonated soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Already among the least expensive foods in the supermarket, these drinks are nutritionally worthless and promote obesity, diabetes and other diseases that have a disproportionate impact on low-income Americans.

One supermarket executive shared with me confidentially that carbonated soft drinks accounted for 6.2 percent of the grocery bills of SNAP recipients. Considering that recipients will spend $65 billion of SNAP benefits on groceries in 2010, that works out to around $4 billion taxpayer dollars that go toward the purchase of soda pop. And that sum doesn’t include non-carbonated soft drinks, which are just as nutritionally poor, such as Gatorade, fruit-flavored drinks with little or no juice, and so on.

Though excluding sugar-sweetened beverages from SNAP would be controversial, setting nutrition standards for government food programs is hardly new. The school lunch and breakfast programs administered by USDA comply with strict nutrition standards that exclude soda and junk food, as does the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which is limited to foods that have specific health benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children.

The federal government should be doing everything it can to reduce soda consumption, not encouraging it. In fact, the government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee bluntly stated, “avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.” There would be stiff opposition to eliminating soda from SNAP from several quarters, and the soft drink industry would certainly pull out all the stops. That’s what happened when the idea of a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda was floated in Congress and in the New York State legislature. And Coca-Cola in particular has a long track record of using its “philanthropy” as a way of buying new friends and silencing critics.

A less controversial way to use the SNAP program to promote healthier diets would be to provide recipients with a financial incentive to purchase fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One easy way would be to provide a credit of say, 30 extra cents, for every dollar spent on healthy foods.

The SNAP program also funds a good chunk of the nutrition education that goes on in the United States, in the form of nearly $400 million in matching grants for state and local governments. But incredibly, during the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that SNAP education funds could NOT be spent to mount community-wide campaigns to discourage the consumption of specific foods, such as soda, and the Obama administration has retained that policy. As a result, health officials in the city of California, Maine, Wyoming, and San Francisco have been effectively gagged when they’ve tried to run campaigns about the health effects of soft drink consumption. We’ve called on the administration to reverse this gag rule, and let SNAP-Ed funds be spent in this most-cost-effective way. (New York City has been running an ad campaign that should be emulated all over the country.)

I suspect that most people would agree that it makes sense not to allow federal nutrition assistance funds to purchase Budweiser and Marlboros, and reasonable people could disagree on where exactly to draw the line. But Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and other soft drinks make no positive contribution to the diet, promote expensive and debilitating diseases, and make our already stark health disparities worse. I would draw the line at soda. This is a product–and an industry–that needs to be taxed, not subsidized.

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High Fructose Corn Syrup – The Natural Killer

Sugar Blues and greens

Image by Mona Loldwoman (Look for the good) via Flickr

You’ve seen the commercials haven’t you?  Two fit young adults are sitting on a grassy hill having a picnic.  The woman says to her partner, “Would you like a bite,” as she extends a popsicle.  The man responds, “I thought you loved me, that has high fructose corn syrup in it.”  She says, “So what.”  He says, “Well you know what they say about it.”  She interrupts and says “What!?  That it’s made from corn?  That it has the same calorie content as table sugar and that it’s fine to eat in moderation?”

All of this is to suggest that high fructose corn syrup really isn’t bad for you because it’s made from corn and that its calorie content isn’t any higher than regular sugar.  While those facts are true it’s only a tiny fraction of the story.

The truth of the matter is that high fructose corn syrup is one of the worst additives you can possibly consume because of the metabolic effects it has once it has been consumed.

Until the 1970’s cane sugar was the sweetener of choice for the food industry.  In the 70’s the corn derived sweeteners like maltodextrin and high fructose corn syrup were developed.  It was sweeter and cheaper so of course the food industry moved to using it instead of cane sugar.

You can find HFCS in a wide variety of foods like soft drinks, salad dressings, processed cakes and candies, breakfast cereal and brand-name breads.  This additive raises the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

HFCS intake increased by more than 1000% from 1970 to 1990 and now accounts for more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages.

Cardiovascular Risk

Unlike regular table sugar that contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose, HFCS contains 80% fructose and 20% glucose.  This is problematic because glucose and fructose are metabolized differently in the body.  Glucose is a readily available source of energy and is metabolized more slowly into energy for the body to use.  Fructose is processed differently.  It is metabolized extremely quickly.  In fact, it is metabolized so fast that the body cannot use all of it for energy.  This becomes problematic because our bodies are not designed to get rid of extra energy.  Our bodies view this as a reserve that could be used later.  And how do we store energy?  As fat!  When you consume HFCS you increase your production of triglycerides and fat storage in the liver.  The rise in triglycerides promotes atherogenic lipid deposition and raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.  If severe enough it can even lead to liver dysfunction.

Diabetes

HFCS also raises the risk of diabetes.  Before a person develops full-blown diabetes they go through a stage called insulin resistance.  In this stage your body actually stops responding to the hormone insulin.  This causes your body to not be able to effectively process sugar into energy.  If this continues diabetes results.  The list of complications from diabetes includes heart disease, neuropathy, blindness, kidney disease and circulatory issues.

High Blood Pressure

HFCS also contributes to high blood pressure.  When you consume HFCS you inhibit an enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase. This enzyme is located in the walls of your arteries and is responsible for producing nitric oxide.  This is a potent dilator of the arteries.  It basically allows the vessels to relax.  If the vessels cannot relax they do not allow blood to flow unimpeded.  When blood meets resistance in the vessels, high blood pressure is what occurs.

Gout

Consumption of HFCS has been linked to a condition called hyperuricemia.  In this condition, uric acid levels in the blood rise.  This leads to the painful condition called gout.  In gout, uric acid crystals are deposited in the joints of the body causing a very painful arthritis.

The Bottom Line

HFCS is ubiquitous in our food supply.  I always recommend that my patients avoid it at all costs.  If you eat a natural diet and avoid processed foods as much as possible avoiding HFCS is actually very easy to do.  HFCS raises the risk of many diseases and recent research even indicates it accelerates the growth of some cancers.  While it is a cheap way to sweeten food, it costs the public their health.  Do yourself a favor and keep it out of your diet.

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Like Smoking, Soda Needs to be Taxed

Sugar intake, especially in children, is a major US health problem.  It is a major contributor to obesity and is creating an epidemic of diabetes in children, a disease once considered an adult problem.  The soda industry, much like the tobacco industry in the 80’s, markets heavily to children knowing that if they can form the habits of soda drinking young, they will most likely have a life long costumer.

While soda is not chemically addictive, although some would argue that point, it certainly creates dependency.  It does so by setting up a dangerous process within the body by which a person can become dependent on the sugary surge they get from a soda to feel normal.  Also consider that many sodas contain caffeine.  This caffeine also have a profound affect on a person and can actually cause withdrawal symptoms just like a drug.  The withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and include  headache, fatigue, sleepiness, inability to focus and concentrate. Others report experiencing flu- like symptoms, irritability, depression and anxiety.

The real problem of soda, however, is the sugar in soda.  It forces the body to release a hormone called insulin in such large quantities that children quickly become insulin resistant and soon thereafter are diabetic.  Soda creates a disease in children that used to take decades to develop in adults.  These children are also overweight increasing their risk for just about every chronic disease ranging from heart disease to cancer.  This places a huge financial burned on our health care system, driving cost up higher and higher.  The way to off set this?  Perhaps a soda tax is the answer.

The Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that a 3-cent tax on each 12-ounce sugared soda would raise $51.6 billion over a decade.  This is quite a lot of money.  A 12 pack of Coke costs about $2.99 so that would up the price to $3.35.  It certainly isn’t enough to stop people from buying their sodas, but it would provide some income to help fight the health problems it is causing.  Proponents of the tax say the money would be used to fund a health marketing campaign to teach people how to eat healthy.  This is a good idea only if they teach it correctly and disregard the whole low fat paradigm.  Studies show that sugared beverages are the No. 1 source of calories in the American diet, representing 7 percent of the average person’s caloric intake and up to 10 percent for children and teenagers.  You will notice sugared beverages are fat free!  Maybe the beverage industry should start advertising that.  The problem in this country is the carbohydrate consumption is through the roof.  Teaching people about eating fat free is a terrible idea because it will only push people towards things high in sugar like soda.  They are fat free after all!

The marketing campaign needs to focus on low glycemic, low carbohydrate options.  This is the only way to change the health picture in the US.  We need to shift our paradigm and consider that fat is not the enemy.  Carbohydrate is.  Simple and refined carbohydrates cause disease and keeping them out of the diet is the single most important factor in long term health.

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Want Cancer? Drink Soda…

A new study shows that drinking as little as two sodas per week significantly increases your risk of pancreatic cancer.  Pancreatic cancer is dangerous because it is aggressive. There are usually few symptoms until the cancer is advanced. Symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, diarrhea, and jaundice.

People who drank two or more soft drinks a week had an 87% increased risk — or nearly twice the risk — of pancreatic cancer compared to individuals consuming no soft drinks,” says study lead author Noel T. Mueller, MPH, a research associate at the Cancer Control Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C. The study is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

I am sure you will be surprised to know that they beverage industry took exception to this study calling it flawed and poorly designed.  The study, however, was quite comprehensive.  It looked at over 65,000 people and followed them for 14 years.  The researchers hypothesized that the increase in cancer was as a result of poor insulin control.  Drinking sugary sodas causes massive amounts of insulin to be released by the pancreas.  Insulin, while a vital hormone needed to maintain life, is detrimental in excess.  It’s already the main culprit in obesity and diabetes and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  Now researchers hypothesize it may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.  There are other studies that show a positive correlation between intake of high fructose corn syrup, the main sweetener in soda, and pancreatic cancer as well.

A Dangerous Trend

While people are living longer and longer with cancer and cure rates are going up, the number of new cases of cancer is also going up.  We are not doing anything that is helping to reduce the number of newly diagnosed cancers in this country.  Perhaps part of the problem is soda.  Consider the following:

According to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA), consumption of soft drinks is now over 600 12-ounce servings (12 oz.) per person per year. Since 1978, soda consumption in the US has tripled for boys and doubled for girls. Young males age 12-29 are the biggest consumers at over 160 gallons per year—that’s almost 2 quarts per day. At these levels, the calories from soft drinks contribute as much as 10 percent of the total daily caloric intake for a growing boy.  (From the Weston A. Price Foundation)

These numbers are mind boggling.  The average person drinks 600 12 oz. servings per year!  You have to remember that takes into account the people who don’t drink any soda because it is an average.  I never drink soda so for that number to be that high, there has to be a lot of people drinking a lot of soda.  Males aged 12-29 drink 160 gallons per year or 2 quarts per day.  To put that into perspective, that’s just over 5 sodas per day. This study says that as little as two sodas per week is enough to significantly raise pancreatic cancer risk.

The soft drink industry is a large reason that this country is so unhealthy.  Most people do not realize the amount of sugar in a soda.  There is more sugar in one soda than in 1 bag of M&M’s.  Most parents would not let their children it 5+ bags of M&M’s in a day but don’t think twice about letting them drink soda all day.  One with breakfast, one with lunch, one with dinner and a couple in between for snacks and pretty soon a whole six pack of soda is gone.  Good thing it’s cheap.  That is also part of the problem.  The availability of inexpensive soft drinks makes it that much easier to get.  But here’s the funny thing – water is much cheaper!  If people replaced their soda intake with good, clean, healthy water many of the health problems in this country would evaporate.

Do yourself a huge favor; if you drink soda, stop.  I have had many patients with health issues and cutting out the sugary drinks is a must.  The soft drink industry would have you believe you can be a healthy individual and enjoy soda, but it isn’t true.  Just like the tobacco industry used to tell you smoking in moderation wasn’t bad for your health, the soda industry will continue to perpetuate the lie until they are forced to change.  Even if we forget about all the other bad aspects of soda – the acidity, the preservatives, the additives – and just consider the sugar, it’s a dangerous product.  Don’t drink it if you value your health or your family’s health.

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