Last week an article was published in the clinical journal Diabetologia that described a significant study performed in Europe. The study demonstrated that people who drink even one can of sugary soda per day raise their risk of Type II diabetes by 18%. The results echoed those of a previously performed U.S. study that suggested a 25% increase in Type II diabetes among those who drank one 12-ounce can of soda per day, on average. There was a huge amount of press about this study, including stories from CBS News, Huffington Post and other major media outlets. Unfortunately there was no immediate call for people to have to submit to background checks before purchasing a six-pack of Coca Cola.
By saying that I am not trying to belittle national gun control efforts, which I fully support. To the contrary, both issues need far greater efforts in the interests of public health in my opinion. There are about 30,000 gun-related deaths per year in the U.S., two thirds of which are suicides and all of which we should work to avoid, in my personal opinion. There are also about 230,000 Type II diabetes-related deaths per year, a large number of which could also be avoided and, if you consider the purchase of soda a self-perpetuated act, most of which are effectively their own form of suicide.
I am sure that all of you who will wave your 2nd Amendment flag around on the gun control issue will also tell me that if you outlaw soda, only outlaws will drink soda, but I could live with that. The Type II diabetes those outlaws would get would ultimately cut their life of crime short, and that’s a plus for everyone. I think the real crime is that New York Mayor Bloomberg’s law limiting soda size was struck down by the courts. With $1 of every $5 dollars spent in the U.S. healthcare system spent to battle the effects of Type II diabetes, we have a bit of a problem on our hands. Making it necessary for people who want even more soda to have to get off their butts and buy a second one doesn’t seem to be a huge infringement on personal liberty in the grand scheme of things if it helps cut diabetes even a little.
Despite the new study, it wasn’t exactly new news that poor eating/drinking habits cause Type II diabetes, but I think it was news to quantify the risk in this very specific way for the average person. One can of soda is a pretty typical rate of consumption in the U.S., which has the highest rate of soda consumption in the world–nearly HALF OF AMERICANS told a 2012 Gallup Poll that they drink at least one can of soda per day (great article and slide show HERE about the impact of soda and diabetes). In addition to this recent report, there have been a myriad of studies from highly respected organizations demonstrating that soda consumption increases heart attack risk in men by 20%, dramatically increases risk of stroke and heart attacks in women, contributes to bone loss, and in the worst of all possible health outcomes, makes women’s butts look bigger.
While it is true that the rate of soda consumption is slowly declining, with what the science world knows about soda you would think the decline would be more precipitous. Tell people that red food dye causes cancer and everyone is out shorting their position in maraschino cherries, but soda is another matter. It is virtually a part of our national heritage and certainly part of our national culture. Go to any other country and ask them what the first thing they think is of when they think of America and you have a pretty good chance of hearing “Coca Cola.” God help us, it can’t be long before some movie star couple gives that name to their baby.
In 2013, America’s game, the Super Bowl, Pepsi sponsored a halftime show featuring Beyonce, America’s closest thing to royalty. The Pepsi halftime program was aptly entitled “Live For Now;” advertising copy-editors apparently left out the implied subtitle: “because you will soon be dead from Type II diabetes.” In 1950 Pepsi’s primary advertising slogan was “More Bounce to the Ounce,” which was probably a more accurate descriptor of what Pepsi drinkers could ultimately expect as their own personal ounces piled up.
I could go on and on about the irony inherent in soda slogans and, because I can’t help myself, I will for a moment.
- In 1963 Coke’s slogan was “Things go better with Coke!” My edit: “Yes! Things like insulin!”
- In 1976 Coke’s slogan was “Coke Adds Life!” My edit, “Wait, I meant death!”
My personal favorites need very little of my own editing, however. Dr. Pepper’s slogan in 2009 was “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.” If that’s not the height of irony I don’t know what is. Even better, in 2008 Dr. Pepper’s slogan–and I am not making this up–was “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” Oh, I don’t know…I could die from drinking Dr. Pepper?
However, if irony is what you are looking for, Coke may be your company. They are now spending an appreciable portion of their marketing campaign telling people how they are really a health-conscious company and how 180 of their 650 beverage brands are low calorie or health choices. Now I’m no math genius, but that would seem to suggest that 470 of their products ain’t so good for you. There is a great article you can read HERE that discusses Coca Company Company’s efforts to be a good healthcare citizen. Among Coke’s contributions are smaller portion sizes and last year’s 2012 Coke release of a Work It Out calorie calculator, which is an app that tells people how long to exercise to burn off the calories in each Coke product. Uh, thanks.
In Coke’s current “Coming Together” campaign video (see below) the narrator actually says, “All calories count, no matter where they come from.” Well, that’s sort of true, but a bunch of empty sugar calories tend to count more when it comes to poor health. Just try eating 140 calories of broccoli and compare the two. I’m no scientist either but I’m guessing the health outcome of the broccoli wins every time. And if I were editing their new campaign slogan it would now be, “Coming Together…At Weight Watchers!”
I hate to pick on specific companies like this because many of them also do lots of really good things, like sponsor education and sporting events and employ thousands of good people who are just doing their job. Coke, for instance, has also established the The Coca Cola Company Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness; A Resource for Health Professionals on the Science of Beverages, Hydration & Active Healthy Living. However it is hard to be un-skeptical of any corporation’s advertising and marketing effort when it is basically an apology for its core business. While Coke’s institute may be an entirely legitimate organization, for all I know, with highly trained scientists doing valid science, it is always hard to believe that corporations would ever foster real research that does its own shareholders meaningful harm; some might legitimately construe that as a breach of their fiduciary responsibility. Plus, some of you may recall the tobacco industry’s attempts to push studies showing that cigarettes are, at worst, not addictive and, at best, good for you. Yeah, right. And when you’re done I have this bridge to sell you. If companies are people, as the U.S. courts have defined them, their “human” tendency is more likely to be a defense of their own actions than to say, “Oh, sorry, you’re right…my product is toxic and destroying American health…I will stop right now!”
I find fascinating the entire debate about whether government has a right to tax or otherwise regulate the sale of soda and I find the objections to this particularly interesting. I really do understand the desire to push back on excessive government intervention in our personal lives, although consumers don’t really fight regulations that limit driving speed near schools or prevent people from bringing weapons on planes; in other words, people seem pretty comfortable with regulations that prevent clear and present dangers. Our state and national governments pay for more than 50% of all healthcare costs and it seems legitimate to me and to make good business sense for them to push some of those costs—at least the ones that relate to personal accountability–onto consumers in the name of preventing clear and present dangers to public health. Lord knows most employers and insurers are already starting to do something of this nature.
On the other hand, there is an alternative approach. Government could push even more soda and junk food into the hands of consumers; in fact, make those delectable if deadly goodies government-subsidized and free to consumers! The result will be shorter life spans. It will take a few decades to make a real difference, but if people die a lot faster, our overall healthcare costs will be lower. Just saying.