The Sugar Battle Continues With Some Twists

The Lempert Report
April 11, 2017

We are in the age of transparency so why do people still think that no one finds things out?

A new article, The Scientific Basis of Guideline Recommendations on Sugar Intake: A Systematic Review, published in late February has gained wide attention and controversy – but not for the reason you would think, or hope. The buzz is not about the findings, but rather that the authors have ties to the food and sugar industries.

The review was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute, that is funded by multinational food and agrochemical companies including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods and Monsanto. And to make it even sketchier, one of the authors is a member of the scientific advisory board of Tate & Lyle, one of the world’s largest suppliers of high-fructose corn syrup. The report stated that the warnings to reduce sugar consumption are based on weak evidence and should not be trusted. Seriously?  

Events like this one continue to chunk away at the food industry’s credibility with consumers. Not because of the findings but because of the source of them. 

Our friend, the well respected Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University told the NY Times “This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science. This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.” 

At the same time a three-year campaign in Howard County, Md., aimed at curbing sugar consumption led to a significant decline in sales of sugary drinks without a soda tax. According to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, the Unsweetened campaign led to a 20 percent decrease in sales of soda and a 15 percent decline in fruit drink sales between January 2013 and December 2015. 

One aspect of the multi-media campaign’s approach was “soda-swapping” in ads and in person. Volunteers led these swaps at public events and took a playful, polite approach to the "swaps," however the campaign readily admits that one response they heard often from the people they approached was that they don't just want water. They also created a Better Beverage Finder, a tool that offers 300+ no-sugar and low-sugar alternatives to sugary drinks. 

The topline is that all things in moderation are good – including sugar. Our objective should be clear, honest communication to consumers. Otherwise we can easily find ourselves following France’s lead to make it illegal to sell unlimited soft drinks at fixed price at restaurants. Five Guys, the burger chain, a newcomer to France, added microchips to cups so when customers try to get a refill from its fountains, they automatically switch off.   

In October of 2016, the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations, urged countries around the world to raise taxes on sugary drinks by 20 percent to reduce their consumption as a way to fight obesity and health issues that have been tied to obesity. 

Americans’ health and nutrition is too important to fall prey to circumspect research – on either side – or gimmicks. The truth is all that shoppers want.