By Dr. Mercola
Last year, evidence emerged showing Barbara Bowman, Ph.D., then-director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, aided a Coca-Cola representative in efforts to influence World Health Organization (WHO) officials to relax recommendations on sugar limits.1
Bowman ended up vacating her post two days after her betrayal of the public trust was exposed.2 Now, we're looking at a new CDC director, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, and she too has a long history of collaborating with Coca-Cola.3,4 Such conflicts are commonplace, yet one has to wonder whether there really aren't any qualified individuals to choose from that are not in the pocket of big industry.
As noted by Jim O'Hara, director of health promotion policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest:5 "We hope Dr. Fitzgerald, as head of CDC, avoids partnering with Coke on obesity for the same reason she would avoid partnering with the tobacco industry on lung cancer prevention."
First Bowman, Now Fitzgerald
Bowman's case is a perfect example of the public health dangers associated with these kinds of conflicts of interest. In March 2015, WHO published a new sugar guideline specifically targeting sugary beverages, calling them out as a primary cause for childhood obesity, especially in developing nations where the soda industry is aggressively expanding its reach.
WHO's recommendation to limit soda consumption was a huge blow to an already beleaguered soda industry, struggling to maintain a declining market share amid mounting evidence identifying sweetened drinks as a primary contributor to the obesity and diabetesepidemics.
The damning email correspondence between Coca-Cola and the CDC was obtained by the non-profit consumer education group U.S. Right to Know,6 and showed that Bowman, whose job entailed preventing obesity, diabetes and related health problems, was helping Coca-Cola gain leverage within WHO.7
The Coca-Cola representative in question was Alex Malaspina, a former scientific and regulatory affairs leader for Coke and founder of International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) — a food industry front group that made headlines last year when it questioned the scientific validity of sugar guidelines.
Newly appointed CDC Director Fitzgerald, an OB/GYN, also has ties to Coke, having received $1 million8 in funding from the company to combat childhood obesity during her six-year stint as commissioner of Georgia's department of public health. Not surprisingly, Fitzgerald's career includes obesity prevention efforts that run contrary to established science showing exercise cannot counteract the ill effects of a high-sugar diet.
Fitzgerald Has History of Promoting Soda Industry's Alternative Facts
As reported by The Intercept:9
"During her tenure as Georgia's public health watchdog, in a state that has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation, Fitzgerald and Gov. Nathan Deal launched SHAPE, a statewide effort to address childhood obesity through 'physical activity before class, physical activity during class, and more structured recess.'
Muhtar Kent, the [now former] chief executive and chairman of Coca-Cola Co., appeared with the governor and Fitzgerald to promote the initiative, along with a pledge of $1 million from his company to fund it … Coca-Cola was so fond of Fitzgerald's approach to obesity issues that an opinion column authored by Fitzgerald is featured prominently on Coca-Cola's website."
Well, it's no wonder Coca-Cola is such a fan. Fitzgerald's approach toward obesity prevention is exactly what the junk food and soda industries have been promoting. SHAPE even had a Coca-Cola executive serving on the oversight board. By focusing on activity levels rather than the need to quit drinking sodas and eating junk food, corporate interests are protected while giving the appearance of "doing something" to protect children's health.
You Cannot Combat Obesity With Exercise Alone
The truth is, obesity cannot be overcome with exercise alone. To neutralize the calories from a single McDonald's Big Mac with large fries and a can of soda, you'd have to exercise for at least 1.5 hours — and that doesn't take into account the many adverse effects taking place on a cellular level from sugar, harmful fats and synthetic additives.
Dramatically reducing sugar intake is a key component of any successful anti-obesity program, and Fitzgerald's SHAPE program said absolutely nothing about this. While the program encourages children to eat five or more fruits and vegetables each day, there's not one word about cutting sodas and junk food.
Ironically, according to Coca-Cola, soda is a perfectly acceptable rehydration choice even before, during and after exercise!10 Based on its physiological effects, this is about as misdirected a recommendation as you can get. You simply cannot compare clean, pure water to soda when you're thirsty.
Soda Industry Has Lost Major Influence Over Pediatricians
Up until 2015, Coca-Cola had significant influence over American pediatricians, donating nearly $3 million for the creation and maintenance of the American Academy of Pediatrician's (AAP) Healthy Children website.11
At the time, the AAP praised Coca-Cola on its website, lauding its commitment to "better the health of children worldwide" — a phrase that seems extraordinary naïve considering what we now know of Coke's business strategies. Leaked internal documents and emails — which have become known as "The Coke Files" — shows the soda industry is actually working against public health in a very coordinated and comprehensive fashion, using well-known tobacco-industry tactics such as:
•Message coordination and influencing media.
•Lobbying at every level of government.
•Funding public health organizations. Public health researchers have warned the beverage industry has created deep financial ties to the public health community over the past several years, and that this was strategically done to silence critics and gain allies in the fight against regulations.12,13,14,15
•Developing close ties with influential scientists and experts who then speak on the company's behalf while presenting themselves as "independent" experts.23
•Debunking and manipulating science. Research has revealed simply funding a study will significantly influence the results. An investigation by Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, found that out of 168 studies funded by the food industry, 156 of them favored the sponsor.24
Here's just one recent example of the soda industry's attempts to undermine scientific facts: In 2016, the American Heart Association issued new guidelines recommending Americans limit their daily added sugar intake to 38 grams for men, 25 grams for women and children between ages 2 and 18, and zero grams for kids under 2.25,26 The junk food industry's answer was to create a study refuting the validity of the recommended limits on sugar, saying: 27,28,29
"Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence. Public health officials (when promulgating these recommendations) and their public audience (when considering dietary behavior) should be aware of these limitations …
At present, there seems to be no reliable evidence indicating that any of the recommended daily caloric thresholds for sugar intake are strongly associated with negative health effects. The results from this review should be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake."
To combat this kind of industry-funded misinformation, scientists at three American universities have created an educational website called SugarScience.org,30 aimed at making independent sugar research available to the public.
•Astroturfing — This is the effort on the part of special interests to surreptitiously sway public opinion and make it appear as though it's a grassroots effort for or against a particular agenda, when in reality such a groundswell of public opinion might not exist.
Big Soda Still Funds More Than 90 Different Health Organizations
The AAP broke ties with Coca-Cola in 2015 — as did the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Family Physicians — saying its board and staff no longer shared Coca-Cola's values. While that's good news, Coca-Cola still funds more than 90 different medical and health organizations,31 including the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the National Institutes for Health and the American Cancer Society.
All of these organizations work on strategies to reduce incidence of disease, yet receive funding from a major purveyor of those very diseases. As noted by researchers looking into the prevalence of soda industry funding of health organizations:32
"Such sponsorships are likely to serve marketing functions, such as to dampen health groups' support of legislation that would reduce soda consumption and improve soda companies' public image. It is recommended that organizations find alternative sources of revenue in order to stop indirectly and inadvertently increasing soda consumption and causing substantial harm to Americans."
Many Health Organizations Compromise Public Health to Satisfy Sponsors
Indeed, researchers33 have noted a number of instances where influential public health organizations shifted position on soda tax initiatives aimed at reducing soda consumption after receiving an industry donation. Here are just a few examples:
•Save the Children, a nonprofit group that provides health education programs for children, had previously supported soda tax campaigns in several states but suddenly stopped in 2010 after receiving a $5 million grant from Pepsi.
•In 2012, when New York proposed a ban on supersized sodas, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics cited "conflicting research" as the reason for not supporting the measure. That same year, the Academy had received $525,000 from Coca-Cola. The following year, Coke gave them another $350,000. Dietitians listed as having received consulting fees from Coca-Cola also participated in a Twitter campaign aimed at defeating the proposed soda tax in Oakland, California.34
•The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the mission of which is to fight for equality for minorities, opposed soda tax initiatives even though black and Hispanic communities have disproportionally high rates of obesity and related health problems.
The Hispanic Federation has also chosen not to support soda tax initiatives. The reason for their lenience becomes clearer in light of the fact that both of these organizations have received large donations from Coca-Cola. NAACP received more than $1 million between 2010 and 2015, and the Hispanic Federation received $600,000 between 2012 and 2015.
One wonders whether the fact that Fitzgerald is an OB/GYN is another reason Coca-Cola is celebrating her appointment as CDC director, seeing how they've lost much of their influence with the AAP, and recent research highlights the dangers of soda consumption specifically during pregnancy.
Drinking Soda During Pregnancy Raises Your Child's Risk of Obesity
According to a recent Harvard study,35 drinking soda during pregnancy raises your child's risk of obesity by age 7. Nearly 1,080 mother-child pairs were included in the study, which found a dose-dependent relationship between soda consumption and the child's future waist size and body mass index (BMI). According to study author Sheryl Rifas-Shiman:36
"Childhood obesity is widespread and hard to treat. So, it's important to identify modifiable factors that occur prenatally and during infancy so prevention can start early."
Overall, more than half of pregnant mothers drank half a serving of soda or more per day during pregnancy. Ten percent drank two or more servings daily. BMI and waist circumference were highest among children whose mothers drank the most soda (two or more servings) during the second trimester.
Interestingly, the mother's consumption of soda appeared to have a greater influence on the child's weight than the child's own intake. Future studies will evaluate whether children's intake of soda may have a particularly potent influence on their weight when consumed during a particular period of their childhood.
Diet Soda Is Not the Answer
I firmly believe ditching soda and other sweetened beverages is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your weight and health, and this includes avoiding so-called "diet" drinks as well. Artificially sweetened beverages may in fact be worse for your health than regular soda. Research has shown artificial sweeteners can stimulate your appetite, increase carb cravings, stimulate fat storage and promote weight gain.
In fact, diet sodas may actually double your risk of obesity, while regular soda (at a rate of one can per day) is associated with a 60 percent increased risk of obesity. In addition to that, aspartame is associated with a long list of other harmful effects, ranging from brain damage to pre-term delivery, while sucralose has been found to be particularly damaging to your intestines.
A study37 published in 2008 found that sucralose reduces good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent, increases the pH level in your intestines, and affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you're on certain medications like chemotherapy, or treatments for AIDS and certain heart conditions. In response to this study, James Turner, chairman of the national consumer education group Citizens for Health, issued the following statement:38
"The report makes it clear that the artificial sweetener Splenda and its key component sucralose pose a threat to the people who consume the product. Hundreds of consumers have complained to us about side effects from using Splenda and this study ... confirms that the chemicals in the little yellow package should carry a big red warning label."
For Optimal Health, Drink More Clean Water
Unfortunately, many are still in the dark about these health risks. Having healthy gut flora is absolutely vital for your optimal health so, clearly, any product that can destroy up to half of your healthy intestinal bacteria can pose a critical risk to your health. Sugar also promotes unhealthy bacterial growth, and many are already deficient in healthy bacteria due to consuming too many highly processed foods. This is why I recommend eating fermented vegetables every day, or at the very least taking a high-quality probiotic.
Remember, pure water is a zero-calorie drink. You cannot find a beverage that contains fewer calories. If you think about it, why on earth would you choose artificially sweetened water over regular mineral water? If you want some flavor, just squeeze a little bit of fresh lemon or lime into mineral water as these citrus fruits have some of the lowest fructose levels of all fruits.