Soda's familiar tactic: Buy 'em off

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Melanie Warner writes today about a soda industry offer to give a Philadelphia-based charity $10 million if the city will vote down what was originally proposed as a two-cent-per ounce tax on sugary sodas.

What came to mind immediately for me was all those deals that bottlers made with school districts: Let us put vending machines in the schools and we'll pay for new sports uniforms, new scoreboards, whatever you want.

We got the cash, and we want to buy access with it. As usual, it's working. The mayor's proposal, Warner reports, is down to a half-cent per ounce, and even that failed in a preliminary vote.

The crux of this, to me, is hinted in a statement to stock analysts by Larry Young, CEO of Dr. Pepper Snapple and chairman of the industry-lobby American Beverage Association:

“You say it’s for obesity. Come on, it’s to fill a budget deficit.”

Just for illustration, let's sub the word "obesity" out and see how it sounds:

“You say it’s for cancer. Come on, it’s to fill a budget deficit.”

“You say it’s for diabetes. Come on, it’s to fill a budget deficit.” 

“You say it’s for emphysema. Come on, it’s to fill a budget deficit.”

Nobody seeking to influence public policy, with or without a pressing financial motivation, would dare sneer at a "real" disease bringing misery to millions nationwide, even if he thought it.

That's the problem with obesity: Not enough people in decision-making roles understand the seriousness of the problem, which is baffling beyond belief. Obesity is a major threat to quality of life, health, and longevity. This is fact.

What isn't accepted yet is what causes it. I don't say that sugary sodas cause obesity, a statement that puts me into accord with the lobbyists. What they won't say, would never say, is that sugary sodas are a strong contributor to obesity.

Further, sugary sodas are nutritionally empty vessels for refined sugars and chemicals, without redemption. One could argue that, say, apple pie has grains and fruit, and while it would be stretching half-truths, it wouldn't be false to say it has nutritional value. You can't say that about sugary sodas.

My issue in this, of course, is food addiction. Similar to sugary sodas, I don't maintain in any way that food addiction is to blame for the obesity epidemic. But I do say it is implicated in a significant minority of obesity cases, and a majority of the most severe ones. It is a real malady that needs real attention from both individuals and institutions.


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