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Beverage industry douses tax on soft drinks

The idea had been floated as a way to finance a healthcare overhaul while combating obesity. But the industry has lobbied key lawmakers and financed scientific studies favorable to its position.

February 07, 2010|By Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger

One theory that has been embraced by Goldstein and others is that the body has not developed a system for processing sugared beverages, which are relatively new to the human diet. One study found that children who drank soft drinks consumed nearly 200 more calories per day.

The beverage industry rejects the argument that liquid calories lead to greater weight gain, pointing to a study conducted by Frank Sacks, a professor in the nutrition department at Harvard School of Public Health. The study sought to determine whether certain diets are more effective than others at achieving weight loss. Sacks concluded that diets that reduce calorie intake result in weight loss, regardless of which calories are cut.

Keane argues that the study proves his point: "a calorie is a calorie," regardless of whether it's consumed in solid or liquid form.

But Sacks disagrees. "I don't know how they possibly could come up with that kind of interpretation," Sacks said. "There was no testing of sugar-containing beverages, and in fact the participants were taught to avoid them."

The industry has cultivated an unusual relationship with the American Academy of Family Physicians, sending a contribution "in the high six figures," AAFP Chief Executive Dr. Douglas Henley acknowledged, to underwrite "educational materials to help consumers make informed decisions."

Henley said "content development is completely independent" of the funding.

Harvard School of Public Health professor Walter Willett criticized the association's website as "misleading and incomplete." The website advises men not to consume more than one can of soda per day, an amount, according to Willett, that "will substantially increase risk of Type 2 diabetes."


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