Archive for May, 2013

On Taxes and Soft Drink Corporations

I think we can all agree that America’s tax structure is in severe need of reform. It is complicated, arbitrary, and inefficient, not to mention that it contains several loopholes that give certain companies an unfair advantage. The soft drink industry is a clear example of the our tax structure’s shortcomings. Currently, companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are able to manufacture their products overseas for an incredibly low corporate tax rate, while other companies, like Gap and Exxon Mobile must pay rates of 30% to 40%. Why is this so? No one actually knows. An article by David Leonhardt in the NYTimes supports this sentiment:

To many economists, a fairer system would not lavish billions of dollars of tax breaks on only some industries for reasons that are almost accidental. “No one likes the current system,” Donald Marron, a former official in the George W. Bush administration who is now at the Tax Policy Center in Washington, said, speaking for his fellow economists if not for corporate executives.

Even more so, out of all the industries/companies to assign such a favorable tax code to, it seems more logical to hike up taxes for the soft drink industry. The article goes on

Public-health experts note that the soft-drink industry is an especially odd candidate for taxpayer generosity, given its central role in increasing obesity and health costs.

Wouldn’t it solve a lot of problems, i.e. public outrage at the tax code, obesity, etc. to make the corporate tax structure less unfairly favorable to companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi?

Some say that the US doesn’t have control over them because they are manufacturing in foreign countries, but there is an obvious solution to this. Again the NYT

The weakness in such a system, of course, is that some countries allow companies to operate almost tax-free. And in a globalized economy, many companies have figured out how to put much of their operations in those countries. Thus Ireland has become the world’s cola maker.

One compromise being discussed in Congress is a version of the territorial system — but with a minimum tax for any overseas operations. If companies were not paying at least that minimum to a foreign government, they would have to pay the difference to Washington.

In truth, I make this matter seem so easy to resolve. And reality clearly does not work that way. There are strong lobbying groups that represent these soft drink giants such as the LIFT America Coalition that lawmakers will need to get past. But, despite those challenges, it is important to be aware of an issue, use a bit of common sense, and hopefully garner enough support for change.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/opinion/sunday/who-will-crack-the-code.html?ref=opinion

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So why is sugar bad again?

Instead of being very vague in order to sound knowledgeable, I’m writing down my current understanding of the science behind the explanations. Consequently, as forewarning, there are definitely some lapses in fact.

First, sugar is composed of 50% glucose (which is the essential energy component of life) and 50% fructose (which is what makes sugar sweet)

When we consume sugar, the glucose portion is metabolized normally and reaches the cell as energy. More on the normal process later.

However, the fructose is problematic since it does not metabolize normally, and most of it ends up going to the liver to be metabolized there. Fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion from pancreatic cells (insulin regulates how glucose gets delivered to and metabolized in cells), thus also somehow leading to insulin resistance in cells*** (when something goes wrong between the insulin hormone in the bloodstream and the its receptor on the cell)

Insulin resistance thus leads to several different harmful pathways. Because insulin resistant cells are not able to take in glucose, amino acids, or fatty acids, it inhibits glycolysis and thus energy production, and results in increased glucose levels in the blood, which directly leads to diabetes. (I’m actually unsure of that process as well). Insulin resistance in fat cells results in increased mobilization of stored lipids and fatty acids in one’s blood.

Because cells become insulin resistant, the body is misinformed and thinks that it needs to produce more insulin, and it thus signals the pancreas to produce more. At some point, the pancreas won’t be able to produce insulin to the needed levels, and the person becomes diabetic. But, increased insulin also blocks leptin, which is a hormone that regulates the positive/negative feedback system to the brain’s hypothalamus. Thus, if we have less leptin circulating, our bodies think that we are actually in starvation, resulting in the urge to eat even more, and ultimately the continuation of a vicious cycle of obesity.

Fructose is also metabolized as fat in the liver. I don’t know how or why, but the effects are serious. Once the liver is fatty, it overproduces LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) and other cardiovascular risk factors.

Despite the fogginess on the biochemistry behind these interactions to explain causation (and my own dearth of knowledge), the important thing scientists do know is that there is a strong correlation. Liver fat is known to predict type 2 diabetes and to be extremely prevalent in obese individuals. I think that alone justifies identifying fructose as the enemy. Plus, the more obvious correlation is there. Obesity levels have risen drastically over the past thirty years, and so has the dietary intake of fructose (it’s more than doubled)

homer-donut-high-fructose-corn-syrup-mercury

***I did find an article that hypothesized a solution to the missing explanation for the link between fructose and insulin resistance. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090303123802.htm

The article in essence: Caveat, this study was only conducted on mice in a lab. Nevertheless, researchers found that the gene PGC-1b was responsible for the building of fat in the liver because it boosted SREBP-1 levels, which is a gene that is a master regulator of the manufacturing of lipids in the liver.

New Aspirations

I know it has been over a year since I last posted, but I have been extremely busy throughout my junior year. However, now that school is out, I plan to devote much more of my time over the summer to this project. As mentioned before, I am really passionate about this cause, and public health is something that I may even consider majoring in in college. I hope to

a) educate myself to a level in which I can comprehend and explain the science behind sugar and its adverse effects

b) spread the message

c) find a mentor in the field

d) take action in the community and create real change.

I recently created a twitter and I found this posted by Maureen Beach, director of communications at the American Beverage Association:

.@MinhKular Misleading to say reducing soft drink consumption will reduce #diabetes. Many risk factors are at play: http://bit.ly/b3wwZw 

The website she uses as proof is from the American Heart Association, I posted its contents below:

Who is at Greater Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

  • People with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and/or impaired fasting glucose (IFG)
  • People over age 45
  • People with a family history of diabetes
  • People who are overweight
  • People who do not exercise regularly
  • People with low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides, high blood pressure
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups (e.g., Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians and Alaska Natives)
  • Women who had gestational diabetes, or who have had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth

Even with my preliminary knowledge, I know that Ms. Beach’s claim that limiting soft drink consumption will not reduce diabetes is false. I know there is a correlation with impaired glucose tolerance and soft drink consumption. However, my goal for this summer is to educate myself to be able to refute these claims with scientific warrants/knowledge. I want to understand the science down to its chemical components so that when I do argue with such frivolous claims, I can sound like an expert.

I know this sounds outrageous, by hey, dream big. I want to be able to at least effectively address each of Ms. Beach’s claims about soft drinks being harmless. Because I know she is wrong.