Soda Pop — Its Champions and Defenders


cooler of soda pop bottlesBelieve it or not, there is still more to say about attacks against the sugar-sweetened beverage industry and all its kin, like artificially sweetened fizzy drinks and sports drinks; and more to know about the rebuttals they have offered in their own defense.

Like any group with a lot of money, the soda pop business has a ton of clout. It hires lobbyists to influence legislators, and convinces people who are ostensibly impartial to be on its side. At the very least, awareness of the industry’s power renders almost any pronouncement from a third party questionable, because it’s always possible to wonder what kind of relationship is going on under the radar.

Sometimes it is tempting to wish that an authoritative figure would take a harder line and speak out more strongly. One example mentioned by Childhood Obesity News is Dr. Richard Besser, who works for ABC News as chief health and medical editor. He reacted with much negativity to a study that linked soda consumption with heart disease. On the other hand, he has warned consumers that diet soda, which is sweeter than regular soda, can “kind of reset your brain to expect or really crave very sweet things.”

Nothing to fear?

More recently, when asked about the chemical 4-MEI, found in the caramel coloring that turns soft drinks brown, Dr. Besser dismissed the specific threat, saying that a person would need to drink thousands of cans of soda per day to get the kind of dosage that causes cancer in lab animals. But to his credit he did add:

I don’t recommend that people drink a lot of soda. You have an occasional soda, it doesn’t matter which one you have. You’ll be fine. Water, bubbly or flat, the best way to go.

Dr. Besser is not on board with the idea of equating sugary drinks with tobacco. His rationale is that while both can cause diseases that might be fatal, neither product directly causes death. He has also said he doesn’t think people should make behavioral changes in themselves from a basis of fear. To which another doctor might say…. it all depends. A person who fears cancer and decides to quit smoking because of that fear is undoubtedly making a good decision.

Spin doctor

Jeff Nedelman has spent years as a professional public relations consultant, specializing in “crisis communications challenges” — in other words, he is a world-class spin doctor. Among the beneficiaries of his talents are the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, and the American Beverage Association. He has also been a senior staff member for two U.S. senators, so you can bet he knows his way around the Washington, D.C., corridors of power.

In an attempt to sound reasonable about the dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages, Nedelman said, “Science showed that cigarettes caused cancer. No such evidence exists here.” To just say “science showed” and stop there is very disingenuous. There was a lot more to it than that — years of solid evidence that showed the dangers of tobacco but was suppressed. AlterNet’s Steven Hsieh writes:

A 1970 statement from lobby group the Tobacco Institute also disputed a scientific study conducted by reputable researchers, this one linking cigarettes to lung cancer: ‘The Tobacco Institute has called “highly suspect” the validity of an American Cancer Society study reporting that 12 of 86 dogs exposed to cigarette smoke had developed lung cancer,’ reads a statement dated June 23, 1970.

A mountain of scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking piled up for years before it actually penetrated the public consciousness or caused changes in policy. Maybe the time lapse, in the case of sugar-sweetened beverages, won’t need to be so long.


Source: “Dr. Richard Besser Discusses Health Myths,”, 06/14/13
Source: “Soda Warnings,”,01/23/14
Source: “The venomous rhetoric is worse than the science,”, 04/10/13
Source: “Big Soda Knocks Harvard Report Linking ‘Sugary Drinks’ to 180,000 Deaths a Year,”, 03/20/13
Image by Joel Kramer

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Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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