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The CSPI’s Petition

cspi-logo

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent research/advocacy group for health made a petition to the FDA in February of this year to ensure the safe use of added sugars. It was made on the grounds that the FDA had pledged back in 1982 and 1988 that they would reassess the safety of sweetners if consumption increased or there was sufficient science to back up that ingredients like HFCS or sucrose were a public health hazard. Thus because we now know that obviously, sugar has become a major health issue, the CSPI could make their petition more credible.

The petition is the embodiment of what I think needs to be done in Washington, and what first steps policywise America can take. In other words, I approve (not that my own personal approval matters too much to politicians)

The petition outlined its actions requested:

1. the FDA initiate a rule-making proceeding to ensure that the content of sucrose and HFCS in beverages is limited to safe levels consistent with authoritative recommendations.

2. With respect to sucrose, HFCS, and other added sugars (GRAS or otherwise), FDA:

• Revise the “Sugars” line on Nutrition Facts labels to address “added sugars”;
• Set targets for lower levels of added sugars in foods (apart from soft drinks and
other beverages) that provide significant amounts of sugar to the general
population or population sub-groups;
• Conduct a public education campaign to encourage consumers to consume less
added sugars; and
• Work with the food industry and interested federal, state, and local agencies to
encourage reduced use and consumption of added sugars—including by
encouraging (1)limits on the sale of over-sized beverages containing added
sugars in restaurants and from vending machines and (2) the development of
means of reducing the use of added sugars.

Of course, (I hate to be negative) most of these requests will not be granted. However, I would love to continue to support the cause in any way I can. I was hoping to get Austin Health Department’s support for the petition, or maybe use a version of this petition (with the CSPI’s support) in front of the Texas legislature.

The full petition can be read here ( I definitely encourage everyone to at least skim through it, and spread the word!!): http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/sugar_petition_2-12-13_final.pdf

Wow.

sugar-display500x300

That is how much ADDED sugar the average American consumes in a year. 78 lbs.

Taking Action

I’ve talked enough about how I am going to put all this knowledge into application and “make an impact”. But enough of that. This summer, I really am going to

TAKE ACTION.

capitol of texas

It’s the hardest thing to actually do because although I have plans for what to do, things never go as planned. I’ve already tried to contact a couple of people who seem to have an influence/vested interest in the field, but they do not ever respond.

So, here is what I propose.

1. Continue to research about the science/current policies.

2. After my SAT’s, I will make a brochure to hand out to the public warranting my cause.

3. I will contact my local doctors offices and ask if I can place the brochures in their waiting rooms

4. I will contact my local senators/congressmen to ask if I can further present my cause/ lobby for change. I have specific policy proposals in mind. Later post on that.

5. If #4 happens, I will get a group together. If #4 does not happen, I will get a group regardless to go and hand out brochures in public spaces.

6. Hopefully, by that point, I will have caught the attention of someone with power who can support the cause.

Okay, wish me luck, whoever (if anyone reads this website anyways)!

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

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.

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.