Jeffrey Enquist, 3L and Student Fellow with the Center for Law and Biomedical Sciences
According to new research presented this week at an American Heart Association conference, approximately 180,000 obesity-related deaths that occur worldwide every year can be linked to sugar-sweetened beverages. Of course, sugary drinks don’t cause death, but they do directly lead to weight gain that increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and other obesity related ailments. When broken down by country, the United States ranks third in death rates related to sugary drinks. In the United States, sugary drinks were linked to 25,000 deaths per year from obesity-related conditions, or about 1 in every 10 obesity-related deaths.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health spent years gathering and processing data, and when controlling for a number of factors, including television viewing habits, changes in physical activity levels, smoking, and other food and drink consumption, they were able to determine the percentage of death from obesity-related conditions linked to sugary drinks.
The American Beverage Association disputed these findings, stating that, “This abstract, which is neither peer-reviewed nor published, is more about sensationalism than science. In no way does it show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer – the real causes of death among the studied subjects.” And it appears they have an ally in the State of Mississippi.
Also this week, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law preventing counties, districts, and towns from enacting rules that limit portion sizes. This bill has been dubbed by the state as the “Anti-Bloomberg” bill. The Governor wrote that the bill was intended to limit the role of government, and that it “is not the role of the government to microregulate citizens’ dietary decisions.” The Governor added that “[t]he responsibility for one’s personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise.”
Interestingly enough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011 approximately 34.9% of Mississippi’s adult population was obese, which was the highest rate of obesity in the nation. Gov. Bryant countered with studies that show Mississippi’s obesity rate among children has dropped by 13.3% from 2005 to 2011. What the Governor failed to mention was that despite this drop, Mississippi still ranks among the top six states in the nation for obesity among high-school students, with approximately 16% being obese. That rate was 18% in 2007 with no data available in 2005, approximately the same percentage drop the Governor referred to. However, in 2003, the same obesity rate was 16%, essentially making no change in the obesity rate amongst that population since 2003.
Mike Cashon, executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, which lobbied for the Mississippi bill, stated “It doesn’t prevent local government from promoting health foods. What it does do is prevent them from creating policy mandates for the sake of consistency and uniformity.” I would argue what this bill also does is keeps one of the largest cash cows in play for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Non-alcoholic beverages cost restaurants between $0.05 and $0.20 per serving, while charging $2.00 or more. In fact, the paper cup used to serve your soft drink costs more than the soda itself.
Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the blocking of his soda size ban. So unlike the cola wars of the 1980’s fought out in the court of public opinion and blind taste tests, it appears this cola war will find its battle ground in the legislative chambers and courts.