A Debate!

Which one do YOU trust to advise you on your health?

AHA (American Heart Association) VS ABA (American  Beverage Association)

As a result of countless recent attacks on soda, the American Beverage Association, an aggressive trade organization that represents the beverage industry, actually created a website specifically dedicated to “clearing up a few things about the products made”. The website is smartly called letsclearitup.org. Their new website isn’t their first “counter-attack” to recent scientific findings and public policy either, they’ve had a history. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 when a New England Journal of Medicine study suggested a soda tax, the ABA responded promptly with an “Americans Against Food Taxes” coalition and website. They’ve also done quite a bit of lobbying the recent years as a response to all this populist pressure. In the 2010 election cycle, their lobbying costs rose 1000% to be about $8.67 million (talk about being a try hard).

On the front page of letsclearitup.org, the ABA has a five slide presentation that states a myth about soda, and then the real fact behind it, basically refuting the myth. What I’m going to do in this post is effectively refute each one of their “facts” word for word with an abstract from a scientific statement in an issue of Circulation, the association’s monthly journal.

I’ll present the exact text from the American Beverage Association first in italics, and then right underneath I’ll present a direct quote from the American Heart Association that refutes it.

Myth: The obesity epidemic can be reversed if people stop drinking soda.

Fact: Sugar-sweetened beverages account for only 7% of calories in the average American diet, according to government data. 

***From a 2004 article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (unaffiliated with any governments or lobbyists):

“Calories from beverages make up 21% of the total daily calories consumed by Americans over 2 years old” BAM! In your face ABA!

Okay, wait a minute, CHANGE OF PLANS: It’s a bit hard to directly refute cold hard facts armed with just a paragraph from the AHA, so instead, I will provide analysis that shows why the ABA’s claim, although true, is irresponsible and should not be taken to heart. (no pun intended)

“In 2001 to 2004, the usual intake of added sugars for Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories per day).”

With some simple calculation, assuming that the average consumption of calories for everyone is 2,000 calories per day, 17.5% of our daily calories are coming from added sugars alone. Now, although I’m comparing an orange and an apple here and not really refuting the claim directly, this statistic does still have some weight. The AHA ” recommends  limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. ” So the percentage of discretionary allowed is about 10% of one’s total caloric intake. Already, the 7% of calories from soda alone is getting pretty close to that 10%. And then, considering that Americans’ consumption of added sugars is already 7.5% higher than the limit for discretionary calories (17.5-10) , cutting back on soda would actually allow us actually meet the recommendation. (that argument was a bit of a detour; I’m in debate, so I’m used to “sketchy” arguments like that, but if you have any questions, email me!)

Q: Does drinking diet soda cause weight gain?

A: No. In fact, diet sodas, which are 99% water, have been proven to be an effective tool for weight loss and weight maintenance.

evidence from observational studies indicates that a higher intake of soft drinks is associated with greater energy intake, higher body weight, and lower intake of essential nutrients.”

Even without the AHA quote, at first glance, the answer that the ABA gives is, although rooted in an actual statistic, plain out blasphemy. Even if “diet” soda’s are 99% water, they have not been an effective tool for weight loss. That is the central problem with all these claims. The ABA can somehow get around by having true premises (facts), but then bending their conclusion from the facts so much as to make one think that it is true. I’m not fooled by their tactics.

FACT: The CDC shows added sugar from soda is down 39% since the year 2000. 

 “sugars/added sugars increased by 19%, which added 76 calories to Americans’ average daily energy intake. Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the primary source of added sugars in Americans’ diets.”

Once again, ABA gets tricky with its claim here. The key phrase is “added sugar from soda” . It’s not claiming that people are drinking less sugary drinks, but that they themselves have lowered the amount of sugar in their sodas by 39%. It has nothing to do with consumption, rather, they are simply restating an independent factor that the manufacturers control. That statistic has basically no meaning at all. On the other hand, the AHA’s claim actually does have significance.

FACT: There has been a 23% reduction in the average calories per serving from beverages sold between 1998 and 2010.

Okay, same situation as above. Plus, consumption of soda has grown exponentially between 1998 and 2010, meaning that we could very well still be consuming the same number of calories even if each can has less, simply because we’re drinking more cans!

Anyways, I feel like I over-promised and under-delivered in this post. I said I would be making word for word refutations, but I didn’t, and I guess I owe you an apology for that. On the other hand, I think I did point out several flaws in the logic of the ABA and (hopefully) made you more aware of the glitches in the system. I feel like the whole AHA versus ABA didn’t have too much clash, so I can’t say that AHA won this debate, but I can say that ABA definitely lost.

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