Conflict-cola is astonishingly capable of stirring up controversy, as Forbes writer Trevor Butterworth recently confirmed in a defense of the very controversial Dr. David Allison. It’s a big question in the childhood obesity field, and arguments were started by an ABC News show called, Is ‘Big Food’s Big Money Influencing the Science of Nutrition? Dr. Allison, as we have mentioned, has been vigorously criticized for not finding enough solid evidence to justify banning, limiting, taxing, or otherwise hindering the sale of soda pop.
Dr. Allison is employed by the food industry, and Butterworth claims that, whatever else a person might think about that, it cannot be denied that mainstream scientific opinion agrees with him. It’s only that Dr. Allison happens to be fortunate enough to collect consulting fees. So the implication is, basically, that his critics are just jealous.
Journalists, Butterworth says, are like “hitmen in an academic vendetta,” and…
… the scientific consensus isn’t what ABC News claims it is… the nation’s leading experts have reached more or less the same conclusion about soda and weight gain as Allison has — independently. Exhibit A) is the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee to the US Department of Agriculture…
Butterworth says the only kids who lose weight from giving up soda are the most overweight to start with. But to normal-weight kids, it supposedly doesn’t make any difference. He even references a study whose results implied that obese kids don’t take in any more sugar than non-obese kids.
He quotes and comments on the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee conclusion:
Limited evidence shows that intake of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to higher energy intake in adults.. How can the evidence for higher energy intake be weaker than the evidence for increased body weight from increased consumption (i.e., energy intake)? The transcript of the advisory committee’s discussion shows the members agonizing over the inconsistency between these two statements and the relative weakness of the connection between sugar and body weight due to limited or poorly conducted data.
This story has so many angles, it could also be in an “Everything You Know Is Wrong” post. According to Dr. Allison and his supporters, the whole media flap that indicts sugar-sweetened beverages as a childhood obesity villain is an example of “white hat bias.” While Dr. Allison’s critics believe he is selling out for money, he sees his critics as selling out for idealism, by distorting information to advance their causes. And, furthermore, these critics are the same eight or 10 researchers who “are constantly citing themselves and referring to each other in order to target soda.”
The problem is… there are very few studies which, by their design, can show cause and effect. These are the gold standard randomized control trials or intervention studies, in which a control group consuming soda is monitored for weight gain over time against a group which stops drinking soda (and all other dietary and lifestyle factors are controlled for).
Another problem resides in that qualifier in the parentheses. How can a study possibly control such factors? Unless people are kept in cages, any study of dietary and lifestyle factors must necessarily depend heavily on self-reporting. That has to be a huge problem. Sure, the numbers always come out at the other end with a “plus-or-minus” fudge factor. But still, how is the “plus-or-minus” calculated? Because, to make that estimation, there has to be some objective reality to compare the survey results to.
To know the truth of what people really do and eat, as opposed to what they say they do and eat, their activities would have to be micro-monitored, and where else is that possible except with people caged like lab rats?
Many people, when they think about the depredations wrought by the soda pop industry, immediately form a mental picture of a bottle or can of Coca-Cola. But this is unfair. Pepsi also does its share towards keeping America’s kids perpetually obese, militarily unfit, and prone to many obesity-related diseases.
Another Forbes writer, Paul Tassi, revealed strong feelings about a certain cross-promotional strategy devised by Pepsi and a video game called “Modern Warfare 3.” Apparently, the object is to bribe kids to consume lots of junk food by rewarding them with unearned points in the game. No wonder Tassi characterizes the move as “selling out about as much as you can” and “nothing short of unholy,” as well as exploitive and abusive of the customers, i.e. the at-risk-for-obesity youth of America.
Now when players fire up the game next month, there’s no telling if those at higher levels have been playing twice as long and hard as you, or if they simply bought a ton of Mountain Dew and Doritos.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “ABC News Attacks Scientist Who Exposed Bias In Obesity Research,” Forbes.com, 06/22/11
Source: “Modern Warfare 3’s Pepsi Cross Promotion Steps Over the Line,” Forbes.com, 09/28/11
Image by The DLC, used under its Creative Commons license.