Obesity Villain b29


In a healthy microbiome, overgrowth doesn’t happen because enough species are present to enforce nature’s system of checks and balances. Childhood Obesity News discussed Prof. Liping Zhao’s discovery of a bacterial strain that can get out of control and expand its population to as much as one-third of the entire microbiome.

He contends that the right prebiotic diet can police this harmful bug. The resulting change in the microbiome’s composition apparently facilitates massive weight loss, even for patients who expend no energy in workouts.

It truly does sound “too good to be true.” Yet, who would bother to claim such extraordinary results on behalf of substances that have been available to the public for centuries? It’s not as if anyone can own the patent on traditional Chinese foods.

In what way is b29 villainous?

Obesity-wise, the trouble starts when endotoxins produced by bacteria hit the bloodstream. Studies of germ-free rodents, specially raised for lab experimentation, show that they are “resistant to high-fat diet induced obesity.” So, ingested fat alone isn’t enough to make them obese.

Prof. Zhao showed that even when endotoxin-producing bacteria live in the gut, their presence alone isn’t enough to cause obesity, because the endotoxin doesn’t get into the bloodstream. It turns out that both are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions.

Prof. Zhao, whose accomplishments, offices, and publication credits form an extensive list, isolated a strain of enterobacter cloacae called b29 and introduced it into the bodies of sterile mice. Here’s what happened:

When the guts of germ-free mice were colonized with the endotoxin-producing bacterium, the mice became obese, insulin resistant, had fatty liver, inflammation and they also experienced inhibition of the gene required for burning stored fat in the gut, along with several genes in the liver for synthesizing fat… If you switch to a high fat diet, endotoxin enters the bloodstream and all of the health issues ensue.

All this is ecology-dependent. The environmental conditions need to be right for the bug to beat the competition and achieve dominance. Prof. Zhao and his colleagues admit that they are far from understanding the ecological factors, though it does seem clear that b19 deactivates the gene that switches on fat-burning and conversely, getting rid of b29 allows the gene to operate correctly and supervise fat-burning.

Disturbing the peace

Among other activities, the microbiota both produce and regulate bile acids; synthesize vitamins; regulate dietary lipids; and influence the absorptive abilities of the epithelium. They also practice “competitive exclusion,” or as Dr. Billi Gordon puts it, the micro-thugs “hijack our bodies and behaviors for personal gain,” waging constant warfare for their slice of the “turf,” which is our colons.

Faced with bugs they don’t want to be friends with, the already established tenants will react with hostility, eat anything they find consumable, and leave no food for the invaders. If the existing microbiota feel threatened by newcomers, they will hog any available attachment sites, much like able-bodied drivers taking up disability spaces. They will whip up some antimicrobial peptides and engage in chemical warfare.

Like any other creature, b29 has its natural enemies, and a quite unfair way of engineering its victory over them. It takes advantage of a weakness in the host’s immune system, which for some reason seems to tolerate b29, rather than recognizing it as an enemy. But why do some people’s immune systems have that security flaw? By taking detailed patient histories, Prof. Zhao discovered a commonality:

When during the first few days or months of life, their test subjects had serious infections, diarrhea and fever, from which they recovered. From there, they quickly became obese. So there might be something about this early infection that makes the immune system tolerate this bacterium.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “#123: Liping Zhao, PhD: Changing Gut Bacteria Ecology w/ Chinese Medicines and Berberine,” HighIntensityHealth.com, 12/08/15
Source: “The Interplay of the Gut Microbiome, Bile Acids, and Volatile Organic Compounds,” NIH.gov, 03/03/15
Photo credit: Grey World via Visualhunt/CC BY

Prebiotics — Too Good to Be True?


One of the enduring scientific archetypes is the researcher who experiments on the nearest, most available subject — the self. Such a pioneer is Liping Zhao, Ph.D., whose many titles include that of Distinguished Professor of Microbiology.

Zhao had an almost 15-year history of obesity, with hypertension and metabolic syndrome. In other words, he was well on the way to developing type 2 diabetes when he read a paper on fat storage in relation to the microbiome. It seems that, once the wrong kinds of bacteria are introduced into their bodies, lean lab mice become obese after only two months.

The Ministry of Health has issued a publication called “Traditional Chinese Medicine or Food.” With that as a guide, Prof. Zhao changed his diet to feature prebiotic fermented foods, lost around 45 pounds, and saw his blood pressure and lipid levels drop.

This personal experience set him on the path of investigating the interactions between host genetics, diet, and the microbiome. Briefly,

There are specific bacterial strains in the human gut which have the genetic capacity, given the right environmental conditions, to directly contribute to obesity induction and development.

Because of their byproducts and excretions, the microbiota leave traces in the urine and blood. Their presence can be tracked by DNA sequencing, data mining and pattern recognition technology, and metabolomics, which studies the set of metabolites present within an organism, cell, or tissue.

Gram-negative bacteria cause grievous health problems and tend to resist antibiotics. The constant presence of pathogenic bacteria insures that endotoxins are produced continuously, causing chronic low-grade inflammation that leads to insulin resistance and obesity.

Pippa Stephens, who interviewed Prof. Zhao for BBC News, wrote:

He says higher levels of toxin-producing bacteria, such as enterobacteria, in the gut can lead to insulin resistance, which means people would not feel full after eating one bowl of rice, instead needing five, 10 or 20 bowls to feel full.

“Their bodies were not telling them they are satisfied,” he says.

As research has shown, the healthy microbiome is characterized by diversity and balance. When an overreaching bug attempts a coup, the resulting battle sends out ripples of consequence that affect the entire body. Prof. Liping Zhao explored a bacterium called enterobacter cloacae and discovered a specific strain of it, called b29, so aggressive it will, if allowed, take over almost one-third of a person’s gut microbiome.

The obese volunteers who were full of b29 followed a specific diet based on traditional medicinal foods, which killed off the b29 bugs within a month. After 23 weeks, some of the subjects had lost 100 pounds, “and recovered from diabetes, inflammation, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.”

Furthermore, this was accomplished with no exercise. Except for sticking to the recommended foodstuffs, the patients did not have to put in any work.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “#123: Liping Zhao, PhD: Changing Gut Bacteria Ecology w/ Chinese Medicines and Berberine,” HighIntensityHealth.com, 12/08/15
Source: “Weight loss: Is the secret in your bacteria?,” BBC.com, 04/29/14
Photo credit: Kevin Poh via Visualhunt/CC BY

The Microbiota Don’t Like Antibiotics — Of Course!


A healthy microbiome, like a healthy brain, makes good decisions for both itself and the fleshy vehicle that carries it around. It does its best to send helpful signals, and if we ignore its messages it makes its objections known in uncomfortable and sometimes spectacular ways. Feeding the bugs what they don’t want, or not feeding them what they do want, can inspire them to act out, like the unstable ex who pulls out a chisel to give your car racing stripes.

It seems that variety and diversity are important for the microbiome, which has actually been referred to as a distinct organ. Researchers want to understand the microbiota — a difficult task because half the creatures that live inside us are not amenable to laboratory cultivation. About what they are doing inside us, we are clueless.

The trillions of individual residents live mostly in the colon, and display intriguing connections with obesity or the lack of it. They belong to different tribes. Scientists have hazarded a guess that the ideal balance would be 80% good bacteria holding out against over-colonization by 20% bad bacteria.

Dr. N. Campbell-McBride wrote:

One of the major functions of the good bacteria in the gut flora is controlling about 500 different known to science species of pathogenic (bad) and opportunistic microbes. When the beneficial bacteria get destroyed the opportunists get a special opportunity to grow into large colonies and occupy large areas of the digestive tract.

However, such statements must be accompanied by a caveat. Further investigation suggests that any given species is able to play more than one role, and can be “good” or “bad” depending on what else is going on.

Americans who never have antibiotics prescribed manage to take in plenty of them, through meat and even through drinking water. Even a small amount of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin has “significant effects on roughly one-third of the bacterial species.” A study that followed people six months post antibiotic therapy found that a lot of microbial species do not just bounce back.

Even with help, they may not regenerate. Chris Kresser wrote:

Unfortunately, even a single course of antibiotics can permanently alter the gut flora. One study found that after a single treatment of intravenous antibiotics, fecal bacteria tests demonstrated a significant change in the variety of bacterial strains, and the development of the pathogen Clostridium difficile.

Anyone who has ever had C. diff, as it is affectionately known, advises others not to catch it. Apparently, it is one of the bad neighbors that moves in when the neighborhood has already started to deteriorate; when the microbiome is already wounded.

In a related discussion about probiotics, we find this:

A study on 135 hospital patients taking antibiotics found that only 12% of the probiotic-receiving group developed antibiotic-associated diarrhea, compared with 34% of the placebo group. Additionally, while 17% of the placebo group developed diarrhea specifically from C. difficile, nobody in the probiotic group did.

The notion that the ferocious C. diff can be so easily averted is impressive. Kresser goes on to say:

If antibiotics must be used (and there are certainly situations where this is the case), special care should be taken to not only restore their gut flora using probiotic foods and supplements, but to eat a diet that supports healthy gut microbiota with plenty of fermentable fibers from starch and the removal of food toxins.

In the future, saving stool specimens for an auto-FMT (Fecal Microbiota Transplant) might be routine, just like setting aside a patient’s own blood is now.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAP Syndrome or GAPS),” wsimg.com, undated
Source: “The high price of antibiotic use: can our guts ever fully recover?,” ChrisKresser.com, 02/10/12
Source: “What To Do If You Need To Take Antibiotics,” Chriskresser.com, 01/10/14
Photo credit: Torsten Scholz (ViewPix69) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Psychiatric Disorders, Weight Loss, and Weight Loss Surgery


Once more, the source of this post is “The Dark Side of Weight Loss Surgery” by Ed Cara. We have seen how patients who undergo bariatric surgery, and subsequently lose a lot of weight, tend in some ways to fare badly. Even when the post-surgical patient seems to be doing fine, the psychological benefits may alternately spike and drop, or even disappear. People still have families and jobs and all the life circumstances that generate anxiety, sadness, anger, self-pity, and other unpleasant emotions.

The fair-minded author mentions how one study determined that “surgery is linked to overall lower rates of psychiatric disorders three years later.” But he also quotes another study that is apparently in direct opposition, which found that “many people eventually returned to the same pre-surgery level of depressed mood they were at three years later.”

Also, research done in 2015 revealed that, between six months and a year post-op, 13% of patients “experienced worsening depression.” Cara wrote this frightening paragraph:

Researcher Junaid A. Bhatti […] found patients were 50 percent more likely to be sent to the hospital for intentionally hurting themselves — most often by overdosing — in the three years after surgery than the three years before (in total, though, only about 1 percent engaged in self-harm).

While one percent may look like a statistically insignificant number, to the people suffering from depression and even contemplating suicide, the problem is plenty significant. Weight-loss professionals may not be equipped to unpack all of a patient’s emotional baggage, but it would be totally possible to focus more attention on two areas.

First, patients can be more effectively taught to expect and cope with the inevitable plateau, and not freak out when the scale shows the same number today as it did yesterday. Second, they can be more thoroughly and helpfully coached through the challenges of a severely restricted lifestyle.

Cara consulted Marci Evans, a dietician and nutritionist whose area of expertise is the treatment of eating disorders, and she said:

The resources that are available for people in terms of support — online communities, classes they can go to — are often led by incredibly inexperienced people who are not qualified clinicians, but other people who have done the surgery…

The concept of support groups is not under attack here, but there is such a thing as “the blind leading the blind,” which is what Evans and many colleagues object to. Such groups, if not facilitated by someone who actually understands therapy, can degenerate into the sharing of “dangerous dieting tips […] that echo those promoted among people with eating disorders.”

As a cautionary tale, Cara includes the story of Brittany Hudson, who had bariatric surgery at age 22, when her weight was 215 pounds. Over the succeeding year she lost 80 pounds, a process described as a “mental nightmare” of pain and purging. The interview took place six years after the surgery, and the writer summed it up like this:

For years, she battled depression and an eating disorder, binging and throwing up the little food she could swallow down and isolating herself from her friends. Ultimately, it would take six weeks at a rehabilitation clinic in 2012 and several years in therapy before she found lasting relief.

Hopefully, bariatric surgery candidates will become better informed and better prepared to meet the challenges. It may come to pass that the medical profession will step up and address the mental health issue more proficiently. The main message here is an old saying that fits in the most literal sense: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Dark Side Of Weight Loss Surgery,” Vocativ.com, 01/24/17
Photo credit: Photo credit: Tobyotter via Visualhunt/ CC BY

Weight Loss and Psychiatric Disorders


The recent theme of Childhood Obesity News is, don’t become obese, because even if you somehow manage to lose an enormous amount of excess weight, life will not be a bowl of cherries. It would really be much better to not have the necessity for weight loss come up at all.

We looked at some of the physical results of massive weight loss. Granted, weight loss by dieting doesn’t have such a great record, but when significant slimming is achieved by bariatric surgery, the aftermath is a lifetime of strict rule observation, and awareness that several things could go wrong.

In either case, a patient who has poor psychological health before surgery will probably still have it afterward. Ed Cara, author of “The Dark Side of Weight Loss Surgery,” says studies have shown that…

[…] bariatric patients are more likely to turn to psychiatric medication and have higher rates of binge-eating disorder and alcoholism than the general public. The very nature of gastric bypass may leave people vulnerable to drinking problems, since it lowers people’s alcohol tolerance; […] a 2007 study found that 12 percent of patients used vomiting to control their weight. Even divorce rates shoot up.

Part of the reason for such severe reactions is that bariatric surgery means major rearrangement of interior parts that Nature had already configured to its satisfaction. Cara adds:

And more radical procedures don’t just shrink the stomach and colon, they also cause dramatic hormonal changes that alter the brain and gut, dulling a person’s appetite.

Of course, these problems don’t afflict every case. Some people sail through the rapid-loss “honeymoon phase” with a song in their heart. But the giddy momentum of transformation slows down or even halts, and that is when people are proven to need support the most. When the idyllically blissful era ends, all that’s left is the daily grind and the prospect of a life almost devoid of what used to be the most important thing: eating.

According to Dr. Sandra Aamodt, anxiety causes dieting and dieting causes binge eating and weight gain. She wrote:

Girls who labeled themselves as dieters in early adolescence were three times more likely to become overweight over the next four years. Another study found that adolescent girls who dieted frequently were 12 times more likely than non-dieters to binge two years later.

This suggests that, after weight loss, anxiety will probably still be pulling the strings, unless close attention is paid and unless psychological help is made available.

The post-bariatric surgery blues

We talked about the regrettable tendency toward recommending bariatric surgery at a younger age, and for less serious degrees of overweight, than was previously considered appropriate. People who are relatively young, and relatively un-obese, opt for surgical intervention with what Cara describes as a “troubling lack of focus on its mental health consequences.”

Perhaps it is not fair to cite an example of bad outcomes from the gastric band, a particular form of surgery that isn’t used much any more, but let’s go ahead and do it anyway. Cara mentions a small study which, in a diet-versus-surgery comparison, “tracked the mental health of patients many years after surgery.”

Over 10 years, the researchers found that despite their long-term success on the weight loss front, the patients’ mental health on average deteriorated past even their pre-surgery level. The dieting group, meanwhile, had largely stayed the same mentally.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Dark Side Of Weight Loss Surgery,” Vocativ.com, 01/24/17
Source: “Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet,” NYTimes.com, 05/06/16
Photo credit: Visualhunt

Challenges of Post-Weight-Loss Life

woman exercising to lose weight

The previous Childhood Obesity News post, like this one, endorsed the idea of never becoming overweight or obese, because of the challenges faced by people who do that, and then go on to lose a huge proportion of their body weight. One way to lose a lot is through extreme clinical fasting. We talked about the HBD, or hypoenergetic balanced diet, and the VLED, or very low-energy diet, but this is a whole different level of intervention.

An old case report which details the “Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days’ duration” says that “starvation therapy can be completely successful.” The subject was a 27-year-old man whose health was sustained during the fast with multivitamin supplements.

That is an extreme “calories in” modification if there ever was one. The report says:

[…] he adapted so well and was eager to reach his ‘ideal’ weight, his fast was continued into what is presently the longest recorded fast (Guinness Book of Records, 1971).

The patient started at 456 lbs and ended up losing around 275 lbs total. What is more, he managed to stay close to his new weight for at least five years after the prolonged fast.

Most big “losers” have one thing in common. Their lives become focused on doing whatever is necessary to maintain the lower weight. Perhaps inevitably, the people who experience the worst difficulties after a major weight loss are those who accomplish it with the help of bariatric surgery. Unfortunately, the surgical option is no longer regarded as an extraordinary measure that should be saved for the last resort. Surgery, especially on younger people, becomes more common every day.

Credit where it’s due

Undoubtedly, the rapid weight loss that occurs after these procedures can make a dramatic difference. When a person loses 30% to 70% of excess weight inside a year, co-morbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and sleep apnea all improve. Annoyances like heartburn decrease. Cholesterol tests come out with better numbers. Maybe without all those extra pounds to carry around the person’s knee joints don’t hurt as much, or at all.

But there are other physical changes — unwelcome ones. In addition to loose skin, which any weight-loser might encounter, people who have their innards truncated run into other problems. They will still go ahead and eat more than their new little stomachs can deal with, which is painful and makes them throw up. “Dumping” is the insider word for this, and it’s pretty much like bulimia.

Along with vomiting, both voluntary and involuntary, post-op patients suffer from newly developed food intolerances, faintness, constipation, thinning hair, flatulence, and other conditions that interfere with the enhanced social life they hoped to achieve through weight loss. On the other hand, studies show that these patients do make more friends than previously, and date more, and self-report a greater enjoyment of life than was experienced by their obese selves.

Where is the credit due?

On whether to interpret this as a side effect of the more slender figure, or as a side effect of generally improved health, opinion is divided. Probably it is both, in varying proportions for different people. This aligns with the concept that there are few one-size-fits-all answers. As product disclaimers proclaim, “Results may vary.” Some answers that seem universally self-evident are not. For instance, health professionals and public service announcements may exhort people all day long to drink plenty of water. But in a lot of places, potable water isn’t available, period. That advice doesn’t work for everyone.

This is also how movements fall apart, when energy is diverted into too many channels. One caring volunteer for the cause might say, “I now see that clean water for everyone must be the number one goal. I’m outta here.” The former comrade-in-arms might say, “But wait, we need you to teach the middle-schoolers’ step-aerobics class.” Both these well-intentioned people are right, but they may end up not being friends any longer.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days’ duration,” PMJ.BMK.com, March 1973
Photo credit: Tawng/123RF Stock Photo

Creating a Normal-Weight Future


Childhood Obesity News has spoken before about the consequences of major weight loss, and we’re doing it again. The reason is definitely not to discourage anyone from making the commitment to lose weight for health. The purpose is to point out the wisdom of not becoming overweight in the first place. A child who never becomes overweight is far less likely to become an obese teen or a morbidly obese adult, and will never face the possibility of dealing with what happens after a major shedding of pounds.

The subject for today and tomorrow is a lengthy piece written by Ed Cara for Vocativ.com, titled “The Dark Side of Weight Loss Surgery” that addresses such problems as these:

Weight loss surgery blogs and message forums are littered with tales of those taken aback by the emotional hurdles of life after surgery, such as a man who struggled with feelings of sadness, self-pity, and anger five months post-surgery, or a young woman whose post-surgery pain worsened her depression, even as she hoped to lose the last elusive twenty pounds needed to reach her ideal weight.

Causing a large portion of the body to disappear is a noteworthy accomplishment, and several things can happen to anyone who does it, by whatever means. A certain amount of readjustment will always be necessary, no matter how the person gets to that point.

Buying new stuff to wear is the least of the newly-reduced person’s worries. Most obese people are equipped with sweat pants and other capacious and forgiving garments. These can continue to be worn through several successive changes in girth. (If you hold off for a while before buying skinnier clothes, the contrast will be more apparent and your friends will be more awestruck.) Perfectly acceptable used clothes can be found at the Salvation Army store, Goodwill, ARC, faith-based redistribution centers, etc.

A professional who is expected to appear in business-appropriate garb will have a harder time keeping the wardrobe up to standard. Office clothes cost more. On the other hand, that person can more likely afford it. But even so, there are clothing resale stores and consignment shops with very high standards and reasonable prices. The point is, in America, most people have access to decent used clothes, as a temporary fix.

More difficult and expensive to cope with is the body encumbered with skin that is leftover and excessive because what used to hold it up isn’t there any more. The beloved celebrity Carnie Wilson lost 150 pounds and allowed the story to be told of how she had flaps of loose skin surgically removed.

And, of course, any formerly fat person has a whole lot of learning to do, about handling social situations. There will be doubters, tempters, trolls, and people who, despite the evidence of success right before their very eyes, feel compelled to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

A bleak future

Those obstacles can arise for people who lose a large amount of weight by whatever means they have chosen. But there are far worse things than baggy clothes or even saggy skin, and they mainly seem to happen to patients who have undergone bariatric surgery. No matter how much the technique advances, one thing doesn’t change. Surgery is by definition invasive, and invasion is generally considered the sub-optimal choice.

Or is it? Formerly, only the truly obese were proposed as candidates for surgical intervention. But the bar continues to lower, to include teens who are overweight but not yet obese, and even younger kids. Many health professionals are concerned about this trend. A goodly number of doctors maintain that the priority should be obesity prevention, and surgery should remain the last resort.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Dark Side Of Weight Loss Surgery,” Vocativ.com, 01/24/17
Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Visualhunt/ CC BY

Too Big to Prosecute?


It isn’t every day that someone files a lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company and the American Beverage Association (ABA). Who does this? A nonprofit corporation called The Praxis Project, aided by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Public Health Advocacy Institute. Praxis gets its support from the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and several other foundations.

The Praxis mission is health justice for all communities, accomplished by “transforming the power relationships and structures that affect our lives.” There are few structures more powerful that the Coca-Cola Company!

The object of going to court is to legally compel Coke to stop deceptive advertising to grownups, and all advertising to kids under 12; and stop denying that its products are linked to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease; and start disclosing the real information about the deteriorating effects of sugar consumption. They would also prefer it if Coke would stop paying “Health Professional Partners” to spread propaganda via social media.

They specifically want a jury trial, and as part of the legal process, it is necessary to show how Praxis itself has been materially damaged by Coke. Here is the reason, which may be adaptable by other plaintiffs in future actions:

Plaintiff has diverted significant resources to its advocacy concerning sugar-sweetened beverages. This diversion has prevented Plaintiff from allocating resources to other projects that advance healthier communities. Plaintiff could have avoided many of these expenditures if Defendants had not engaged in deception about the consequences of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, consistent with its legal duty.

Praxis charges that Coke is trying to shove the whole connection between SSBs and obesity under the rug, and to divert attention elsewhere, namely to the refusal of consumers to do engage in enough physical activity to work off the calories. Coke does this knowingly, because it has evidence that their products are indeed connected to the rise in chronic medical conditions related to obesity.

Coke and the ABA are accused of subverting the truth by employing various euphemisms like “balance,” “calories in, calories out,” and “mixify.” The main instrument, for a while, was the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) a website that pretended to be impartial.

The lawsuit gives many examples of “dubious claims” made by the beverage industry, and cites an analysis of beverage studies showing that those sponsored by the corporations and the ABA were five times as likely to absolve sugary drinks from any blame. When study authors have no financial ties with the industry, their research paints a different picture.

The Amended Complaint also includes a plethora of scientific references to refute Coke’s sketchy assertions, such as that a fizzy drink is a sensible snack at any time of day:

Whether through GEBN, or various universities, Coca-Cola spent approximately $120 million, between 2010–2015 alone, surreptitiously funding various research and programs intending to confuse and misrepresent the science on the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

For Forbes.com, Nancy Fink Huehnergarth interviewed an expert not involved in the case, Edward P. Richards, JD, MPH. He feels that even if Praxis does not get what it asks for, some goodwill inevitably come from the lawsuit, because the legal requirement for discovery (showing documents to the other side) will reveal things that the industry does not want made public, which will probably lead to at least some change.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mission & Approach,” ThePraxisProject.org, undated
Source: “Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief,” CSPINet.org, 01/17/17
Source: “Even If It Fails, Lawsuit Accusing Coca-Cola Of Consumer Deception Could Yield Benefits For Health Advocates,” Forbes.com, 01/06/17
Photo via Visualhunt

Praxis to Coke: See You in Court


Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the idea of taxing sugar or, more specifically, of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which many people think is a good idea. To influence public opinion in the opposite direction, the soft-drink corporations and their lobbyist/apologist, the American Beverage Association, have encouraged various types of professionals to defend the anti-tax point of view on social media. Often, this encouragement consists of actual payment, and some people don’t think it’s right.

The old saying “Caesar’s wife must be above reproach” means, among other things, that political leaders shouldn’t hang around with mobsters, because we tend to judge people by the crowd they run with. In the most general meaning, it behooves those in authority to keep their noses clean, and not do anything, even accidentally, that could be mistaken for a dishonest move.

Of course, real life doesn’t work that way, and plenty of officials are on the take, as headlines show every day. The young and innocent parts of our grownup minds want to believe that top-shelf scientists are better than that. In an ideal world, they would not only guard their images more carefully, but actually hold themselves to the highest standards of veracity and integrity. And many do, though it is not easy. The appearance or suspicion of corruption can be just as damaging as a court-proven case.

Lawyer up

Speaking of court, someone is suing Coca-Cola for deceiving consumers about the negative health impact caused by the corporation’s numerous sugar-saturated products, and for claiming that SSBs have no connection with obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disorders. An additional claim is that Coke “engaged in a pattern of deception” intending to mislead the public and the government about its so-called Responsible Marketing Policy, which particularly affects children under 12, their parents, and society as a whole.

The plaintiff is an advocacy group called The Praxis Project. Writer Sharon Snell suggests that the action “could turn the whole tide on the so-called sugar wars”:

The lawsuit, which was launched on January 4, 2017, is being brought under California’s unfair competition law and false advertising law to stop Coca-Cola and the ABA from conducting false and misleading marketing of their sugar-sweetened beverages. If successful, it would have a significant impact on Coke’s business and opens the floodgates to product liability claims.

“Liability” is a word that no fizzy-drink exec wants to hear, because it means the company has to take responsibility for one of many possible negative outcomes. If tobacco manufacturers can be sued for causing cancer, why shouldn’t SSB peddlers be sued for causing diabetes? According to the Centers for Disease Control, close to 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes. It could be the most enormous class-action suit ever.

Sure, the corporations have rafts of lawyers and gigantic budgets. In their eyes, losing a few criminal liability cases is just a routine cost of doing business. A corporation can bounce back from an impropriety charge much more readily than an individual scientist. Still, it’s bad publicity, and could cause stock prices to drop. Snell writes:

The NGO [non-governmental organization] says Coke and ABA have engaged in a pattern of deception for years, aimed at misleading and confusing the public (and governmental entities that bear responsibility for the public health) about the scientific consensus that SSBs are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Basically, Coke’s focus has been to blame the consumers with constant reminders that if only people would keep up with their exercise it would not matter how many SSBs anyone drank, and Praxis calls foul.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sugar wars: Coke faces first salvo in US false advertising lawsuit,” BizCommunity.com. 01/09/17
Photo credit: ictyphotos via Visualhunt/CC BY

Expertise for Sale


Childhood Obesity News mentioned how registered dietitians are financially rewarded by Coke and the American Beverage Association to hype products and ideas via social media. Typically, their job is to object to any thought of taxing soft drinks, or sugar in general. Apparently one of the arguments they use is the “stealth tax” theory.

Supposedly, anything other than property or income tax is a stealth tax, and that includes sales tax, value-added tax, tobacco and liquor tax, gas and air travel tax. (It seems like lottery tickets should also be included.)

Ideally, a stealth tax is built into the product so cleverly that the customer doesn’t realize it’s there. But retailers (in America, anyway) provide receipts that clearly specify the tax amount. Even if they didn’t, as long as the information is available to a casual inquirer, there is nothing sneaky about it.

Little pity can be spared for consumers so uninformed as to be unaware of, for instance, the taxation of liquor. If people don’t realize half the price of a pack of cigarettes is tax, they have no one but themselves to blame.

Of course, even when the point-of-sale tax amount is known, any product still has an enormous amount of taxation baked into it. The true stealth taxes are the ones that were paid by the manufacturer, before the item even hit the store’s shelf. When the purchase is made those outlays will be recouped from the customer.

What does that even mean?

Supposedly, the main feature of a stealth tax is that it makes the government some money without attracting attention, because protest will be minimized if the offense “isn’t properly detected.” This definition breaks down, however, when considering the possibility of a sugar tax in Great Britain, which has been hotly and very publicly debated for years. There is absolutely nothing underhanded about it.

Apparently, “stealth tax” is just one of those terms to which people are expected to automatically react with fear and loathing, which is why paid bloggers and tweeters are instructed to use it. It’s as if “stealth tax” has become the new code for “sin tax.”

Who else gets paid off? According to The Times, researchers have made millions of pounds and dollars off Coca-Cola. They had one job, which was to convince everybody that sugar doesn’t cause obesity. According to the article:

The newspaper investigation claims the drinks giant has financial links to “more than a dozen British scientists, including government health advisers and others to cast doubt on the commonly accepted link between sugary drinks and the obesity crisis.”

The drinks giant has published a list of research activities it pays for in the US and says it is in the process of doing so for Britain.

For details about why Childhood Obesity News is not a fan of Coke or any sugar-sweetened beverages please see “The CDC-Coke Scandal and Beyond” or choose from a number of previous Coke-related posts.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Coca-Cola is paying dietitians to tweet scare-stories about soda taxes,” BoingBoing.net, 10/08/16
Source: “What is a stealth tax?,” ROMEconomics.com, 12/21/13
Source: “Too Sweet to Handle: UK Health Minister Sugarcoating UK Obesity Crisis,” SputnikNews.com, 10/12/15
Photo credit: Larry Miller via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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