Big Soda muddies science, politics

The American Beverage Association’s Let’s Clear It Up site is a one-stop shop for all your burning beverage, marketing, and health questions:


High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) causes obesity and diabetes.


Actually, the American Medical Association has concluded that HFCS, a common liquid sweetener made from corn, is not a unique contributor to either obesity or type 2 diabetes. In fact, HFCS is so similar to sucrose (table sugar) that your body can’t tell the difference between the two, and processes both in the same way.

Despite its name, HFCS it is not high in fructose and, just like sucrose, it is a combination of two simple sugars – glucose and fructose.

Source: American Medical Association

While the argument that Let’s Clear It Up makes is valid – HFCS is indeed not a unique contributor to either obesity or type 2 diabetes – over-consumption of HFCS and sugar does contribute to both.  The issue with the above “fact” is that it seeks to obfuscate the argument by citing the American Medical Association.

Dr. Sandra Fryhofer is the source in question.   Past Chair of the American Medical Associations Council on Science and Public Health, Fryhofer has also served as President of the American College of Physicians and as a committee member with the Centers for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine.  She’s also a spokesperson for Coca-Cola.

MYTH: In the above video, Fryhofer claims that HFCS is simply half glucose – brain fuel – and half fructose – found in fruits, honey, and root vegetables.  Sometimes, she concedes there is a smidge more fructose in HFCS than in sugar, 55% vs. 50%, but hardly worth reporting.

FACT: A study published in Nutrition found that fructose in beverages sweetened with HFCS can reach 65% of total sugar with an average of 59%.  Per the third National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) adults and children consume a lot of fructose.  Mean consumption of fructose stood at 54.7 g/day or 10.2% of total calories.  Adolescents consumed the most fructose at 12.1-15% of daily calories.  Sugar-sweetened beverages were the largest, single source (30%) of fructose in the diet.  Consuming a diet high in fructose can contribute to insulin resistance and obesity.

As reported by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s Weighty Matters blog, Dr. Fryhofer’s affiliation with Coca-Cola runs counter to the American Medical Association’s Conflict of Interest Policy:

To ensure that the Trustee or Member is not placed in the difficult position of serving organizations with conflicting overall goals and objectives, a Trustee or Member shall disclose his or her participation in other organizations. If the overall goals and objectives of the AMA and the other organization do not conflict, participation is permitted. If a conflict exists, the Trustee or Member shall choose between the conflicting organizations, and shall resign from one of the positions.

Rather than violate the policy, a recent study found that Fryhofer isn’t alone in her patent endorsement of the beverage industry within the ranks of public health.

The study, published by Boston University researchers, found that the American Beverage Association sponsored 96 public health organizations between 2011 and 2015.  Organizations that received funding from PepsiCo and Coca-Cola include the American Center Society, American Diabetes Association, Centers for Disease Control, and National Institutes of Health.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics did not renew contracts with the American Beverage Association after 2015.

Along with paying organizations that support public health initiatives, the American Beverage Association uses its vast monetary and political sway to trump public health bills, including those that propose restrictions on purchases made within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, voluntary guidelines for marketing to children, and soda taxes.  A Center for Science in the Public Interest analysis found that the American Beverage Association spent $106 million since 2009 in opposition of local, state, and federal public health initiatives.

When the city of Philadelphia proposed a soda tax in 2010, the American Beverage Association offered to donate $10 million to Pew Charitable Trusts on one condition: drop the proposal.  Philadelphia chose not to comply, the tax is in effect, and a lawsuit against the tax was filed by the American Beverage Association.

Tomorrow, 4 cities in California and Colorado will vote on measures to introduce 1 to 2 cent soda taxes.  Shy of 100,000, these voters are contending against a barrage of the American Beverage Association’s best offense.  In San Francisco alone, $9.5 million worth of air time has been dedicated to opposition of the tax.  In neighboring Oakland, California, those in favor of the tax have spent $23,000, around 3% of what the American Beverage Association has spent in the same community.

The American Beverage Association also hires dietitians to tweet false statistics and retweet articles in support of bans on soda tax.  Tweets include #partner, #advisor, and @cartchoice but do not specifically disclose the partnership.  @Cartchoice refers to the American Beverage Association’s blog Your Cart Your Choice where many tweeters are also contributors.  Ninjas for Health, “a network of innovators who have big ideas for keeping health out of the hospital,” maintain public lists of twitter accounts sponsored by Coca-Cola.  You can read them here, here, and here.

See anyone you know?

One thought on “Big Soda muddies science, politics

  1. It’s nice to see the American Public Health Association hasn’t been taken in by the soda pop industry. Our membership guards against such affiliations; I suspect other organizations are more driven by staff.

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