Taking on Big Soda

10 Oct

A video worth dusting off the sugar politics blog for —The Center for Science and the Public Interest and PR Exec Alex Bogusky teamed up on “The Real Bears” to take on Big Soda:

And….Big Soda continues with the denials (From USA Today):

But executives at Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association say the video is bunk and its statistics wrong.

“This is irresponsible and grandstanding and will not help anyone understand energy balance,” says Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan Stribling. “It also distorts the facts while we and our industry partners are working with government and civil society on real solutions.”

Pepsi declined to comment. But ABA spokeswoman Karen Hanretty says, “CSPI is better at producing videos than they are doing math. People are drinking fewer calories from soda — and have been for a decade — so how can soda be to blame for rising obesity?”

For more frequent (and shorter!) sugar politics updates, follow my new twitter feed (see the sidebar).


Cocoa Pebbles are Gluten Free!

22 Dec

The Public Health Advocacy Institute has accused General Mills of using whole grain claims to “distract” consumers from the sugar content of their cereals.  (Thanks to Marion Nestle for calling attention to the article.) Exhibit A:

trix box

I have had a box of Cocoa Pebbles on my desk for several months now (on my desk, not on my breakfast table) so that I could learn more about the front-of-package labeling scheme. From 20 feet away, my husband saw the cereal box and said, “Wow, Cocoa Pebbles are Gluten Free!” I’d say Post is using a similar strategy to General Mills….

Not to mention the slogan, “Rocks Your Whole Mouth.” Have you seen the commercials?

After loading 64 pebbles on his tongue, we see Fred close his eyes and bob his head while the Pebbles are transported to his brain, which one you tube viewer commented, “makes you think that they snuck Ecstasy inside the cereal!”

The Trouble With Sugar

16 Dec

This 2004 BBC News investigation shows us how easy it is to pack sugar into food intended for kids (albeit in the UK), as well as how easy it is for the sugar industry to influence scientific panels charged with reviewing the health effects of sugar. The video is 40 minutes long, but well worth a watch.



Has Michelle Obama Given up on Reducing Sugar in Kids’ Diets?

7 Dec

Dr. Marion Nestle asked a couple of days ago on her blog, has the Let’s Move Campaign given up on healthy diets for kids? While I share Dr. Nestle’s concerns, I don’t want us to forget about the Partnership for a Healthier America which was “created in conjunction with – but independent from – Let’s Move!

It  is the “Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation”  that has promised Mrs. Obama  in a signed agreement with the Partnership for a Healthier America  to reduce 1 trillion calories in their products by 2012, and 1.5 trillion calories in their products by 2015. The HWCF is a coalition “that brings together more than 80 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, sporting goods and insurance companies, trade associations and NGOs”

Let’s Move is the physical activity tool in the toolbox of the Partnership for a Healthier America, while the HWCF is working on healthy diets.

When the HWCF announcement was made in 2010, Mrs. Obama shared the stage with David Mackay,  who was the President and CEO of Kellogg’s and Chair of the HWCF at the time.

I counted the number of times they both referred to reducing sugar intake.

Mrs. Obama – 7

Mr. Mackay – 0

Still, a look at the HWCF website member page, where members can link to their plans to reduce calories in their products, Coca-Cola, for one, appears to be living up to what was promised in the video with their “Live Positively” initiative which can be summed up in three main points:

  • Tiny coke cans.
  • More reduced calorie products.
  • Clear calorie labeling on the front of products.
Though what I’m not clear on is what this means for the overall Coca-Cola product portfolio. Are sales of regular Coca-Cola the same, and now even more people are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, albeit less sweet?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has committed to supporting an independent group of scientists who will define the measures that will be used to track progress and determine whether “the program is making a significant difference for our Nation’s children.” The HWCF has committed to an annual progress report to the Partnership.

This is what we should be watching for.

Be a Mind Sticker

1 Dec

I spent some time yesterday researching the introduction of the first diet sodas. I was surprised to learn that Diet Rite, made by RC Cola, was the first widely marketed soda, followed by Patio by Pepsi, then Tab by Coca Cola. I remember the Tab commercials from the 70s, but just had to share this campaign from the 60s.

“When you can’t be with him, be in his mind…..be a mind-sticker.”

Big Food More Stringent on Sugar Labeling than Institute of Medicine

27 Sep

Dr. Marion Nestle blogged today about the latest incarnation of nutrition labels designed for the front of food packages.  The purpose of putting labels on the front of food packages is to help consumers make sense of the nutritional value of a product quickly, without having to stand and gawk at the back of a package.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, trade associations which together represent “approximately 70 percent of retail food and beverage products,” have voluntarily designed their own version of the front-of package label.1

The problem is, a standardized front-of-package labeling system is currently under review by the FDA.  The FDA has asked the Institute of Medicine to make a recommendation on what to include on front-of package labels, and the process isn’t finished yet.

Usually, when an industry takes voluntary action, the motivating factor is an attempt to ward off more restrictive regulations. And this may, in fact, be the case when it comes to including “good for you” nutrients on the front of the package (see Dr. Nestle’s comments.)

But what is really unbelievable, is that the voluntary label recommended by Big Food, is MORE restrictive when it comes to sugar than what the IOM has recommended to date. Big Food is putting the total sugar content right there on the front. The IOM has recommended AGAINST putting total sugar content on the front. Here’s their logic:

Total Sugars

• There is a lack of scientific agreement about the amount of sugars that can be consumed in a healthy diet and about potential adverse health effects of sugars beyond an effect on dental caries. Thus, it is difficult to conclude that total sugars intake is of sufficient public health concern to be included in FOP rating systems.
• Total sugars include those naturally present in fruits, vegetables, and fat free or low fat dairy products, which are considered foods to encourage.

Added Sugars

*Despite the overall increase in calories that they provide to the American diet, at this time evidence and agreement are lacking about adverse health effects of added sugars, the exceptions being the extra calories that they contribute to a diet and their dilution of essential nutrient intake.
• An analytical test that can accurately determine added sugar content is unavailable, leaving the sharing of proprietary product formulations as the only apparent option for monitoring product compliance with established criteria.
• Added sugars are not included in the Nutrition Facts panel, so including added sugars in FOP system criteria would lead to inconsistencies between the Nutrition Facts panel and FOP symbols.


Does that seem strange to you?

Are Retro Sodas Sweetened with Real Sugar? Or High Fructose CANE Syrup?

26 Sep

As public opinion of high fructose corn syrup continues to plummet, some food manufacturers are switching back to “real sugar”. Pepsi Throwback is a prime example. “Made with Real Sugar” is printed on the front of the can, and the ingredients list names “sugar”  as the sweetener.

When “sugar” appears on the ingredients list of a product, according to FDA regulations, “the term sugar shall refer to sucrose, which is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets.”

So that means granulated sugar is used to sweeten Pepsi Throwback, right?


It is not unheard of to sweeten beverages with granulated sugar. But beginning in the 1940’s, a product called “medium invert sugar (MIS), a solution in which one-half of the sucrose has been inverted, came to be widely used in the soft-drink industry.”1

Tom Wilson, a technical services manager at Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, GA, discussed the use of invert sugar in an article published by foodproductdesign.com last month:

Wilson explains that sucrose in beverages generally comes from cane or beet sugar. Processors then dissolve that sugar in water to yield liquid sucrose with a specific color, concentration and pH, or take the process a few steps further by adding acid to hydrolyze the liquid sucrose into liquid invert sugar.

Most beverage makers opt for the liquid forms because they’re “much easier to handle than a bulk truck of dried sugar or 50-lb. super-sacks that you need to open, put into a tank, add water, monitor the concentration—all those things that are already done when you buy the liquid,” he says. And by getting inversion out of the way, you avoid potential taste changes in the can or bottle. The degree of inversion is up to the user, Wilson notes, and the finished liquid invert is very similar in viscosity, pH, flow characteristics and concentration to HFCS. “That’s an easy transition for a bottler to make.”

When a food manufacturer switches back to “real sugar”, chances are, they are actually switching back to invert sugar.

I have two reactions:

1) If the health concerns about “free fructose” are valid, and beverage makers are, in fact, using invert sugar, then the products using so-called “real sugar” contain free fructose. Medium invert sugar consists of 50% sucrose, 25% glucose, and 25% fructose. Full invert sugar has no sucrose at all, and is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. The most commonly used form of high fructose corn syrup,  HFCS-55, is 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

2) If beverage manufacturers are using invert sugar, but labeling it as sugar, then this may be a case of deceptive labeling. Invert sugar has its own FDA definition. Jones Pure Cane Cola properly lists “inverted cane sugar” in its ingredients.

HFCS was named high fructose corn syrup because it had more fructose than regular corn syrup. Now, due to the demonization of fructose, the Corn Refiner’s Association is attempting to re-brand HFCS to “corn sugar”.

Perhaps we need a new perspective.

Invert sugar has more fructose than table sugar. So, instead of re-naming high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar, shouldn’t we be renaming invert sugar to high-fructose cane (or beet) syrup?

Do Canadian Teenage Boys Eat a lot of Sugar?

22 Sep

The Vancouver Sun ran an article today titled, “Teen boys consume 41 teaspoons of sugar a day, StatsCan finds.”

In the third paragraph, we learn the headline actually refers to total sugar intake, which includes sugars in fruits, vegetables, and lactose in milk.

What if we just look at added sugars?

After the StatCan authors sorted through various issues of total sugars vs. added sugars, survey design, how to calculate sugar content of foods eaten etc. they concluded that 46% of daily sugars consumed by teenage boys were added sugars.

Is that a lot?

46% of 41 teaspoons….4 grams to a teaspoon…teaspoons of sugar in an ounce of soda…wait, I think I need algebra to figure this out.

Ok, assuming my calculations are correct, Canadian teenage boys are averaging a daily added sugar consumption equal to 24 ounces of soda. (To see what the sugar content of 24 ounces of soda looks like — visit www.sugarstacks.com — ps. I used their numbers for my calculations)

Ok, so is that a lot?

An Institute of Medicine Report suggests that we should limit our intake of added sugars to less than 25% of our daily calories–higher than that and we start to displace too many nutrients in our diet.

Sigh. So, now I have to figure out how many calories are in a gram of sugar. Or wait, should I use calories per teaspoon?

Thankfully, the StatCan study authors figured it out for me. All age groups hover just above, at or below 25% daily calorie intake of sugars. And that’s total sugar intake. So if the IOM recommendation for added sugars intake is valid, Canadian teenage boys could upsize their sodas and still be under their daily sugar maximum.

So I guess everything is ok up there in Canada.

Of course there’s a sticky wicket. Not everybody agrees with the 25% of calories guideline for added sugar intake. In fact, in a controversial World Health Organization report, a recommendation was made to limit daily free sugar intake to 10% of calories. But wait, what the heck is a free sugar?

Well, according to the WHO, a free sugar is an added sugar. So, using the WHO numbers, are Canadians eating a lot of added sugar? I could probably figure it out, but…..does it really have to be this hard? Or is it hard for a reason?

Are you getting enough sugar to keep your weight down?

21 Sep

That’s what Sugar Information, Inc. wanted to know in 1959. Sugar Information, Inc. was a predecessor to today’s Sugar Association, Inc., a trade association whose mission is to promote the consumption of sugar.

(The Sugar Molecule, Fall-Winter 1959-60 Vol. XI No.1)

There is oh-so-much to say about this advertisement (sugar as energy for women’s bowling teams)?! But what I really want to talk about is trade association advertising.

Today, two big trade associations are going head to head over the renaming of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. The Corn Refiners Association has already taken to calling HFCS, ‘corn sugar’ on their websites, even though the FDA hasn’t given its approval to the new moniker. And I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘corn sugar’ ads on tv (or at the very least, the Saturday Night Live spoof).

The Sugar Association and its members claim that using the term ‘corn sugar’ to refer to high fructose corn syrup in advertisements is deceptive and in violation of state and federal law.

In defense of corn sugar, Dan Webb “argued that the Corn Refiners Association is an industry group that does not directly sell any products, therefore it cannot be sued for false advertising.”

Really? Trade Associations can’t be sued for false advertising? All we have to do is look to past practices of The Sugar Association (one of the plaintiffs!)  for a quick lesson. In the ad above, Sugar Information Inc. wasn’t advertising a product, per se, but was promoting overall sugar consumption. And while this particular ad didn’t spark a Federal Trade Commission investigation, subsequent ads in the early seventies did. This one’s my favorite: Diet Hint: Have a Soft Drink Before Your Main Meal  Sugar Information Inc. lost, and was required to cease and desist AND print corrective ads.

Speaking of the FTC – why didn’t the Sugar Association and its members work through the FTC to file their complaint, rather than filing it  through the California courts? Perhaps this is more public relations, targeted at the court of public opinion?