If your core business involves the mass production and distribution of sugary products with little nutritional value, times are tough. In the old days, prominent health institutions and regulatory governmental agencies looked upon sugar as relatively benign. Today, however, the science of sugar metabolism is much better understood and accordingly, those institutions and regulatory agencies are becoming increasingly fastidious regarding sugar.
The cat is out of the bag and it’s not going back. So if you’re in the sugar business, your most viable marketing strategies may well involve shifting consumer attention away from food and toward other aspects of healthy living, like exercise.
This seems to be the case with Coca-Cola, according to a story that broke earlier this week in The New York Times. A new nonprofit organization, the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), which collected $1.5 million in donations from Coke in 2014, promotes the idea that focusing on healthy food is the wrong approach to losing weight.1 Instead of food, dieters should be focusing on exercise.
In an astounding, you-have-see-it-for-yourself online video, GEBN’s vice president, Dr. Steven N. Blair, explains about obesity, “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is that they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much, blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on. And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that in fact is the cause.”
While it’s true that no single food is solely responsible for obesity, the notion that sugar consumption doesn’t matter flies in the face of decades of nutritional science research. Even the big regulatory governmental agencies are now lining up against sugar and this isn’t happening for lack of “compelling evidence.”
After sitting on the sidelines for decades, both the U.S. and the U.K. governments are now aligning themselves with the published scientific literature and indicating that official warnings against excessive sugar consumption are forthcoming.
Last month in the U.K., the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which advises Public Health England and other government agencies on nutrition, suggested that daily intake of sugar should be halved, from 10% to 5% of total calories, to reduce obesity and improve dental health.2
Here in the U.S., the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans are due for revision this year. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has already met and, after reviewing the published scientific literature, has determined that sugar should account for no more than 10% of total calories.3 Previously, the guidelines recommend against consuming “too much” sugar, but failed to quantify upper limits.
Finally, in March of this year, the World Health Organization issued an official communiqué stating that sugar should account for no more than 10% of total calories and that 5% would confer even greater health benefits.4 According to Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, “We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay.”
Americans are drinking fewer soft drinks every year. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. soft drink sales have declined every year for the past 10 years, representing a 14% decline since 2004.5 Are beverage giants trying to lull the public into believing that sugar plays no part in obesity?
Coca-Cola insists they partner with “the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and physical activity,” but it’s curious that they seem to avoid funding groups that warn about sugar. In fact, since 2008, they have given upwards of $5.5 million to projects organized by two of GEBN’s founders, Dr. Blair and Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.6]
This story serves as a dramatic example of how corporate money can influence public opinion through purportedly independent, nonprofit organizations. We at The Paleo Diet would like to emphasize that exercise is indeed an important component of healthy lifestyles, but unfortunately exercise cannot compensate for unhealthy diets, particularly those high in processed, sugary foods.
1 O’Connor, Anahad. (August 9, 2015). Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/?_r=0
2 The BBC. (July 17, 2015). Scientific experts: Sugar intake ‘should be halved’. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-33551501
3 O’Connor, Anahad. (February 19, 2015). Nutrition Panel Calls for Less Sugar and Eases Cholesterol and Fat Restrictions. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/nutrition-panel-calls-for-less-sugar-and-eases-cholesterol-and-fat-restrictions/?_r=1
4 Press Release. (March 4, 2015). WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children. The World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
5 Esterl, Mike. (March 26, 2015). Soft Drinks Hit 10th Year of Decline. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/pepsi-cola-replaces-diet-coke-as-no-2-soda-1427388559
6 O’Connor, Anahad. (August 9, 2015). Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/?_r=0