Big Soda – Industry Lies, Lobbying, and Pro-Sugar Research

The food and beverage industry has been accused of engaging in a concerted effort to spread misinformation about the science behind sugary drinks.

Big Soda is an industry that has been known to lie and lobby for their own interests. The “sugar industry and coronary heart disease research” is a perfect example of this.

Big Soda - Industry Lies, Lobbying, and Pro-Sugar Research

A decades-long effort encompassing traditional advertising, youth targeting, tax evasion, research sway, and the obfuscation of facts? When we removed the curtain on Big Tobacco, it seemed like a scenario we’d previously seen play out. This is Big Soda, however, and their techniques are all too familiar. The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are two of the biggest participants.

We are now in the midst of a sugar crisis. In the previous 30 years, sugar consumption has climbed by 30%. The typical American adult eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, while children ingest 32 teaspoons, well above the WHO’s recommended limit of six teaspoons. Soft drinks account for 25% of Americans’ sugar intake, while sugar-sweetened beverages in general (including sports drinks and juice) account for 39% of our sugar intake, according to the latest Federal Government Dietary Guidelines. One 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 9.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Why is soda so harmful to our health?

Soda is a big contributor to a variety of medical issues since it is the most common source of added sugars in the American diet. Sugar consumption may cause weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and tooth and bone damage.

The more soda a person consumes, the more likely he or she is to be overweight. “People who drink this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as satisfied as if they had consumed the same number of calories from solid food, and they do not compensate by eating less,” Harvard researchers concluded.

“People who consume this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as full as they would if they had the same number of calories from solid food.”

Dr. David Ludwig, head of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, remarked, “I know of no other category of food that may cause weight reduction in such a short amount of time.”

Excess sugar intake has also been shown to have a negative impact on cognitive performance. UCLA researchers revealed that if you don’t get enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet to balance out a high-sugar diet, your capacity to acquire and recall knowledge suffers. Two groups of rats were given a sugared solution for six weeks in this investigation. In a labyrinth, rats that did not get Omega-3 fatty acids to counterbalance the elevated glucose levels performed much worse.

There are also allegations that sugar exerts effects on our brain that are comparable to those of narcotics like cocaine. Coca-Cola was really manufactured with cocaine at one point, so it’s not that far-fetched. Sugar triggers our cerebral cortex’s rewards system and releases dopamine, resulting in a pleasant sensation. Sugar, like narcotics and alcohol, may cause addiction if consumed in excess.

Why are soft drinks so popular even though we know they’re unhealthy for us? Here are 10 ways Big Soda persuaded us to ignore alarming facts and keep drinking sugary drinks.

1. They claimed that obesity was caused by a lack of physical exercise.

The soda business was effective in shifting the focus of the obesity debate away from diet and toward activity. They claim that today’s high obesity rates are due to Americans being more sedentary and moving less than they used to. They believe that exercise, rather than dietary modifications, is the answer.

Coca-Cola proclaims on their website, “There is increasing concern about overweight and obesity worldwide, and while there are many factors involved, the fundamental cause in most cases is an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended,” to instill the misconception that exercise is the cure-all for obesity and diabetes.

Coca-short-lived Cola’s and contentious Global Energy Balance Network was based on this premise (GEBN). Obesity, according to GEBN, is caused by a mismatch between “energy in” (calories ingested) and “energy out” (calories expended) (calories burned in physical activity). After it was discovered that Coca-Cola paid University of Colorado academics $1 million to promote these ideas, the organization folded at the end of 2015, less than two years after it was founded.

While exercise is a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle, it has little effect on our waistlines. In 2007, a year-long research tracked inactive, overweight people as they began a regular exercise routine. Men shed an average of 3.5 pounds and women just 2.5 pounds without making any dietary modifications by the end of the year. Similarly, Loyola University published a paper in 2015 claiming that the only method to reduce weight is to limit calories unless you are exercising considerably over the recommended daily activity levels.

Even fitness professionals, who are usually enthusiastic about pro-exercise arguments, have said that blaming obesity on physical activity is impractical. Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit, is a vocal opponent of Coca-pro-exercise Cola’s campaigns, claiming that if people felt exercise was the answer to obesity, then what he was advocating at Crossfit constituted “medical malpractice.”

2. They supported research that was pro-soda and pro-sugar.

Big Soda backs up its pro-exercise assertions with research papers, ensuring that their claims are “science-backed.” Last year, the Mayo Clinic released a Coca-Cola-funded paper claiming that “for most people, the American diet is no longer a substantial risk factor for illness.”

Above all, Big Soda is built on a decades-long pro-sugar crusade. The sugar business distorted studies on the causes of heart disease, according to the University of California San Francisco, which we just discovered about this year. After studies linking sugar to heart disease surfaced in the 1950s, the Sugar Research Foundation funded a Harvard University literature review in 1965 that minimized sugar’s risk effects. Instead, scientists blamed fats, influencing popular perceptions of heart health for decades.

For decades, researchers transferred the blame on fats, influencing popular perceptions of heart health.

Furthermore, notably in the 1970s, the sugar business affected oral health studies. Instead of asking consumers to cut down on sugar, sugar-funded research and marketing concentrated on fluoride toothpaste and other steps to prevent tooth decay.

Sugar does not cause obesity, according to the current president of the Sugar Association, and linking the two is a “slippery path.” “We have to treat this as a complicated issue that demands a holistic answer, rather than a simplistic one such as taxing the corporation or enacting prohibitions,” said current PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.

FDA labelSugar misperception starts at the top and goes all the way down. The federal government did not provide sugar consumption guidelines until this year. (They now recommend that sugar accounts for fewer than 10% of your daily calories.)

The FDA announced new nutrition labels that will go into effect in July 2018 to make Americans more aware of how much sugar they eat. The new labels distinguish between added and natural sugars, as well as the proportion of daily recommended sugar consumption.

The Sugar Association, predictably, issued a statement condemning the new standards, saying, “We are worried that the verdict establishes a dangerous precedent that is not based on research, and might potentially prevent us from our common objective of a healthy America.” They go on to say that adding another category to the labels and focusing on one component of nutrition “may hinder consumer attempts to eat better diets.” The American Beverage Association (ABA) also feels the new label is superfluous, owing to the fact that soda firms are already dealing with sugar problems.

Though the new labels are a step in the right direction, many health activists believe the FDA should abandon the usage of grams in favor of teaspoons, which Americans are more familiar with. “In general, the business has been able to make nutritional labels as flimsy and misleading as possible,” Tina Rosenberg writes in an op-ed for The New York Times. It’s difficult to distinguish the difference between a little and a lot.”

3. They had an impact on health organizations, researchers, and dietitians. 

Big Soda not only funds pro-soda and sugar studies, but it also pays health experts to make remarks in their favor. When politicians suggest soda taxes, this is very prevalent. Dieticians were tweeting against soda taxes, using hashtags like “#partner” and “#advisor” to imply to their links with the soda business, according to Kyle Pfister, a public health advocate (like the one below).

It’s certainly intriguing! When shops pay soda taxes, we all pay for it by paying higher grocery prices. @cartchoice #advisor #sodatax

October 5, 2016 — Robyn Flipse (@EverydayRD)

However, their clout extends much beyond just paying for endorsements here and there. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo funded over 100 health groups between 2011 and 2015, according to a research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, including, unfortunately, the American Diabetes Association and the American Society for Nutrition.

Soda firms are totally knitted into the fabric of our health and wellness organizations, despite being one of the primary drivers of obesity.

Coca-top Cola’s scientist and health officer, Rhona Applebaum, resigned in November 2015 after hacked emails between Applebaum and University of Colorado professor James O. Hill exposed the Global Energy Balance Network’s health recommendations as being biased.

Our health and wellbeing groups are thoroughly knit into the fabric of soda firms.

According to Hill, Applebaum informed him that the GEBN researchers had to work with the soda business because it was “non-negotiable.” Hill also wrote to a Coke official, saying, “I want to assist your business escape the image of being a nuisance in peoples’ [sic] life and return to being a corporation that offers vital and exciting things to them.”

Dr. Barbara Bowman, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, resigned in June 2016 after stolen emails revealed she was coordinating with Coca-Cola executives. According to emails, she offered CEO Alex Malaspina assistance in interacting with the World Health Organization (WHO), which had traditionally shunned Coca-Cola.

Soda firms have in certain circumstances employed public health authorities who formerly opposed them. Dr. Derek Yach, a public health advocate who formerly worked for WHO and directed the organization’s tobacco-control efforts, has been named director of PepsiCo’s global health policy. Yach stated that he sought to bring about change from the inside out. Critics, such as Marion Nestle, author of Soda Politics, felt that this approach simply added to PepsiCo’s legitimacy.


4. To protest soda taxes, they established phony grassroots movements.

Thirty-three states have enacted some type of soda tax to combat obesity. The tax amounts, on the other hand, are usually little enough not to have an impact on consumption levels. When towns banded together to seek greater soda fees and limits, the industry retaliated with the same ferocity that Big Tobacco lobbied.

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City saw this personally when he introduced the Soda Cap, which prohibits the sale of sugary drinks of 16 ounces or more. This bill sparked a soda-fueled grassroots campaign. New Yorkers were exposed to anti-soda-cap propaganda from what looked to be community-based groups (e.g., “New Yorkers Against Soda Cap”), but were really founded and funded by the soda business.

Big Soda formed The Coalition for an Affordable City in 2014 to resist San Francisco’s Prop E soda tax, which fraudulently seemed like a grassroots organization protesting high living costs. They recruited non-residents to carry banners during “No-on-E” rallies, and they even released the names of numerous corporations that claimed to be against the tax but were really in favor of it.

Prop E in San Francisco did not pass, but when taxes and modifications are enacted, the American Beverage Association promptly challenges them in court. In June 2014, the New York soda cap was rejected in the New York Supreme Court after being authorized by the NYC Board of Health.

Despite being touted as a success story, Philadelphia is now in a legal battle with the ABA over its Sweetened Beverage Tax. The tax, which is the highest in the country at 1.5 cents per ounce, funds pre-K programs, parks, and recreation facilities. The ABA claims that it is unlawful since it is double taxation. It’s still uncertain if the tax will go into force as anticipated in 2017.

“They recruited every lobbyist in America, even ones from the moon,” says one source.

Big Soda spent $10 million in Philadelphia alone to oppose the tax, and it has spent $67 million in total to defeat similar bills around the country. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney sought to make light of the bitter struggle with Big Soda in an interview with The New York Times, saying that “they recruited every lobbyist in America—some from the moon.”

5. They promoted stevia-sweetened drinks as the next-generation “healthy cigarette.”

15924685866_3abcd9aa03_bDiet drinks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi have long been the industry’s response to sugar criticism. Despite being lower in sugar and calories than conventional cola, the components in these drinks do not match the “healthy” label.

Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True, both launched in the United States in 2014, come in green cans and are touted as low-calorie natural sweeteners including Stevia. Both firms have been chastised for their claims that Stevia is “natural,” which they back up with marketing featuring plants and the color green.

Stevia, a sweetener obtained from the Stevia plant, does not just fall off the plant as advertised. It has undergone extensive processing.

“A reasonable consumer would not consider food goods containing artificially processed, synthetic chemicals… produced by chemical processing to be ‘all-natural,’” according to a class action complaint against stevia.

Furthermore, opponents contend that the green, natural images projected by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo with these goods cause customers to assume (incorrectly) that they are healthful. Pepsi True, on the other hand, has 3.2 teaspoons of sugar each 7.5-ounce can, but Coca-Cola Life has six teaspoons per 12-ounce can.

Professor Amanda Lee of Queensland University of Technology said, “It reminds me of the time 30 years ago when manufacturers were developing healthier cigarettes. I’m concerned because it’s attempting to make a product that is inherently harmful, healthy.”

(Part 2 may be found below.)

6. Sugary sports drinks and juices were sold as “healthy.”

Even Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s healthier beverage choices, such as sports drinks and fruit juice, contain more sugar than your daily allowance. Despite this, soda firms continue to promote these beverages as healthy alternatives, with PepsiCo even referring to some of the drinks as “good-for-you” brands on its website.

Here’s how some of Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s “healthy” drinks line up against the WHO’s recommended daily amount of added sugar:

  • 15.2 oz container of Oceanspray Cranberry; 10.6 tablespoons sugar
  • 16 oz container of Izze Sparkling Juice; 7.8 tablespoons of sugar
  • 20 oz bottle of Powerade; 6.8 tablespoons of sugar
  • 20 oz bottle of Gatorade Lemon-Lime; 6.8 tablespoons sugar
  • 20 oz bottle of VitaminWater; 6.4 tablespoons sugar

“No customer could reasonably be deceived into believing Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage,” Coca-Cola claims.

The issue isn’t only with the extra sugars; it’s also with the marketing of their health advantages. In 2009, Coca-Cola was sued for promoting VitaminWater as a healthy beverage. “Vitamins + water = everything you need” and “this mix of zinc and strengthening vitamins can…keep you healthy as a horse” were statements on their labels. Coca-Cola said throughout the legal proceedings that “no customer could reasonably be deceived into believing Vitaminwater was a healthful beverage.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a similar case against PepsiCo in October 2016. The complaint claims that Naked Juice’s labeling are deceptive because they claim the juice includes “high-value ingredients like acai berry, blueberries, kale, and mango,” yet the main component in the line is frequently inexpensive, nutrient-poor apple juice.

7. They oversold their environmental image by greenwashing.

Big Soda, unlike Big Tobacco, has a mainly favorable reputation. They promote themselves as socially conscious businesses, promoting causes such as the environment, clean water, fitness, and even female entrepreneurs. If you look at their advertisements or yearly social responsibility reports, you’ll get a good impression of the soda sector.

“Changing people’s perceptions of reality is simpler and less expensive than changing reality.”

Both Pepsi and Coke have been accused of “greenwashing” (falsely portraying themselves as environmentally conscious) in order to market their goods. “It is simpler and less expensive to modify people’s perceptions of reality than it is to change reality,” said Sharon Beder, a professor at the University of Wollongong.

Plant bottles—bottles constructed partly from plant materials—are promoted by both Coke and Pepsi as a sustainable step forward. The natural components of the bottle are highlighted in advertisements supporting the technology: Coca-Cola bottles were shown as blooming flowers in one commercial.

8071716821_07e1987d6a_bCritics contend that the plant bottle advertisements and promises for the environment are deceptive. Despite the fact that they are partly created from renewable resources, they are still plastic and have the same ecologically destructive properties as plastic derived from petroleum. “They’re just employing plants to produce the same polymers that are used in other plastics.” According to Marcus Eriksen, a marine scientist, “it has no impact on plastic pollution.”

Experts are also concerned that since soda makers promote their plant-based technology, consumers would believe the beverage is biodegradable and will not recycle it. In Denmark, a complaint was lodged against the corporation for making a false environmental claim.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi look to be model global citizens in other ways, such as via their water replenishment programs. Coca-Cola said in August of this year that they had replaced all of the water they had consumed in 2015. However, if you look closely, you’ll see that they only restored the water that goes directly into the product—they don’t account for the 150 billion gallons of water used in the production facilities or to cultivate their sugar cane.

It also draws attention away from the reality that they are monopolizing and poisoning water sources in rural areas throughout the world. Though Coca-Cola claims that their Replenish Africa Initiative would supply healthy water to four million Africans by 2020, in certain locations, the firm is the reason communities don’t have access to good water in the first place. Officials in the Indian state of Kerala shut down a Coke bottling facility in 2004 due to water pollution and restricted water supply for communities.


8. They fabricated a socially responsible image.

Sugar_cane_farmCoca-famous Cola’s advertising, such as “I’d want to buy the World a Coke,” and its “Small World” vending machines, which advocate peace between India and Pakistan, convey an image of global connection. However, in addition to making false environmental claims, the soda business misrepresents its humanitarian contributions in other countries.

Both firms’ 2020 objectives place a strong emphasis on human rights across the globe; Coke, for example, has set a lofty target of providing training and financial assistance to 5 million female entrepreneurs in 40 countries. Oxfam’s responsible brand scorecard, on the other hand, reveals that they still have work to do. Oxfam only scored Coca-Cola a 40 and Pepsi a 34 (out of a possible 70) for their efforts supporting land, women, farmers, water, transparency, climate, and workers as of April 2016.

The industry’s main worry, according to Oxfam, is that it buys sugar from companies that are involved in land grabs in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. According to Oxfam, land the size of four times Portugal has been seized from people and sold to foreign investors in the last decade. Locals are pushed out of the region and become destitute as a result of this behavior.

Both corporations have also been accused of promoting unethical labor practices. Coca-Cola was the biggest buyer of sugar collected by child labor in the Philippines, while PepsiCo was implicated in a child labor scandal in Jakarta in July 2015.

According to Oxfam, sugar output will increase by 25% by 2020. Big Soda has a duty to encourage ethical agricultural and labor practices as some of the world’s major sugar importers.

9. They targeted the underprivileged in the United States and across the world.

screen shot 2013-03-13 at 5.01.21 pm.pngBig Soda realizes that these locations are their final option for retaining soda earnings, in addition to abusing developing nations via unethical labor and agricultural methods.

Lower-income people have traditionally purchased more soda than the rich and middle classes, resulting in increased obesity and diabetes rates in locations where medical expenditures are prohibitive. The New York City Health Department revealed that the communities with the greatest soda consumption were often low-income regions with the city’s worst obesity and diabetes rates: Bed Stuy-Crown Heights and the South Bronx topped the list.

Big Soda is well aware of this, and is attempting to further exploit their greatest demographic by saying that soda taxes harm the poor by raising the cost of drinks. However, studies have shown that when soda taxes are enacted, consumption in these areas decreases, yielding the anticipated public health benefit. “The poor don’t pay the soft drink tax—they quit consuming it,” Barry Popkin, a nutrition expert at the University of North Carolina, told NBC News.

“The poor don’t pay the soft drink tax because they don’t consume soft drinks.”

As more Americans cut down on sugary drinks, Big Soda is turning its attention to poorer countries to narrow the earnings gap. According to a survey by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, developing countries will eventually account for 70% of soft drink sales (like China, India, Mexico, etc.).

The repercussions of Big Soda are already being seen in certain corners of the globe. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, sugary drinks were responsible for 180,000 obesity-related deaths globally in 2013 (diabetes, heart disease, and cancer). 78 percent of these fatalities occur in low- and middle-income nations, with Mexico suffering the most and the United States ranking third.

The American Beverage Association, as predicted, criticized the research, claiming it was “more about sensationalism than science.”

10. By advertising to children and teenagers, they were able to build long-term clients.

Above all, children and teenagers are the most vulnerable to Big Soda advertising, and soda firms have a long history of intentionally targeting them.

Marion Nestle, author of Soda Politics, recounts how soda makers created “Pouring Rights” contracts with schools in the 1990s in an interview with Dr. Joseph Mercola. School districts and colleges acquired millions of dollars in school financing in return for solely selling their company’s goods and placing vending machines around their campuses. Even primary schools were referred to as “Coke” or “Pepsi” schools.

Despite the fact that these contracts are now mostly found at the high school or university level, Coke and Pepsi continue to give schools with branded sports jerseys, scoreboards, and other items, which helps to cement brand loyalty at a young age.

The sector also entices the industry’s younger clientele by assaulting them with advertisements. Big Soda spent four times the amount they spend on water and juice advertising to advertise their harmful drinks, reaching $866 million in 2013, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Even more troubling, black and Hispanic adolescents were exposed to more than twice as many soda and other sugary beverage commercials than white youth.

By 2020, Coca-Cola intends to cease marketing to children under the age of 12. Pepsi claims that 100 percent of their advertisements are ethical, and that they exclusively offer their “most nutritious goods” to youngsters in their sustainability report. Pepsi, on the other hand, upped its advertising for every teenage demographic between 2010 and 2013, according to the Yale research. In 2013 compared to 2010, preschoolers saw 39 percent more commercials for sugary beverages, 6 to 11-year-olds saw 25 percent more ads, and teenagers saw 146 percent more ads.

“Despite commitments from large beverage corporations to be a part of the solution in combating childhood obesity, firms continue to sell their harmful beverages directly to children and teenagers,” Jennifer Harris, the report’s primary author, stated.

If Big Soda’s role to the obesity crisis is to be halted, it must stop with youth advertising.

Watch This Video-

The “what went bad with the sugar business” is a story about how Big Soda has been lobbying for pro-sugar research. The article also discusses how Big Soda has been lying to the public about the health risks of sugar.

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