‘All soft drinks are not created equal… some will kill you sooner and some later’
Soda giants’ deal too sweet to buy: Other View
Americans have been trending toward bottled water and other non-sugary drinks over the past decade.
America’s sugary drink industry wants you to know that it cares about your health.
The American Beverage Association announced last week that it wants to reduce calorie intake from beverages by 20 percent over the next 11 years. It will do so through smaller packages and by encouraging people to drink diet sodas, water and other other beverages that have fewer calories than a standard soft drink.
In a society where 35 percent of adults are obese (up from the low teens 50 years ago) it’s important that public and private groups do something. But this latest announcement hardly merits breaking out the champagne, or even the Cherry Coke.
Americans have been trending toward bottled water and other non-sugary drinks for reasons of health and taste over the past decade. While this might not be enough to bring a 20 percent drop, it could get much of the way there, making the industry’s campaign like a rooster crowing and then taking credit for the the dawn.
The move is, first and foremost, a public relations gesture. Soft drink companies are under siege in communities across the country where their products are being removed from schools and are being targeted for taxes. The new campaign will allow them to argue they are good corporate citizens, even as they continue to fight these battles. It also has a marketing element as it could allow them to sell more diet drinks.
Diet drinks are a plus for beverage makers because some consumers drink more than they would sugary soft drinks, assuming that it won’t affect their waistlines. Last year, even before the industrywide campaign was launched, Coca-Cola began promoting its diet beverages (as well as water and juice) as evidence of its effort to fight obesity.
The problem is that diet sodas aren’t necessarily an improvement. Studies on the effect of diet soft drinks are mixed, but many suggest — surprisingly — that they are no better for reducing obesity than sugary drinks and are, in some ways, worse.
For reasons that researchers have not been able to explain, the drop in calories associated with diet drinks does not necessarily translate to weight loss. Nor does it help much in fighting diabetes. In fact, some studies have shown a higher incidence of diabetes with diet drinks.
Fortunately, smart consumers have been getting wise to this, pushing sales of diet drinks down for three straight years, at rates faster than regular soft drinks.
By wrapping themselves in virtue, the soft drink companies are out to counter this trend. The best way to look at the new campaign is as a sales theme. Companies can promote diet beverages under the theme of health much as they promote sports drinks by linking them to highly fit athletes.
In reality, the best thing for obesity would be a national focus on what people drink in childhood and adolescence, when habits are formed. Kids should drink water, skim milk and unsweetened fruit juice.
While the beverage companies have branched into some of these areas, they are not eager to see the drop in traditional sodas continue. For that reason, their latest anti-obesity campaign doesn’t have much fizz.