Soft drinks have devastating impact on public health

14 January 2016
Marion Nestle
Professor Marion Nestle from New York University is visiting Auckland next week.

How did soft drinks that contain inexpensive ingredients, become the basis of multi-billion dollar industries and international brand icons, while also having a devastating impact on our health?

That’s the focus of a talk at the University of Auckland’s Tāmaki Campus next Monday by an American food and nutrition expert.

Professor Marion Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, Professor of Sociology at NYU and a visiting professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University.

In her talk, ”Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)”, Professor Nestle will detail the ways that the soft drink industry works overtime to make drinking sugar-sweetened beverages as common and accepted as drinking water, for adults and children.

In America, soda drinks refer to soft drinks or sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Sodas are astonishing products,” she says. “Little more than flavoured sugar-water, these drinks cost practically nothing to produce or buy, yet have turned their makers into a multi-billion dollar industry with global recognition, distribution, and political power.”

“Billed as refreshing, tasty, crisp, and ‘the real thing’, sodas also happen to be so well established to contribute to poor dental hygiene, higher calorie intake, obesity, and type-2 diabetes, that the first line of defence against any of these conditions is to simply stop drinking them.”

“Habitually drinking large volumes of soda not only harms individual health, but also burdens societies with runaway healthcare costs,” she says.

Professor Nestle, a renowned food and nutrition policy expert and public health advocate, shows how soft drinks are principally miracles of advertising. She says the industry spends billions of dollars each year to promote their sale to children, minorities, and low-income populations, in developing as well as industrialised nations.

“Once they have stimulated demand, they leave no stone unturned to protect profits,” she says. “That includes lobbying to prevent any measures that would discourage soda sales, strategically donating money to health organisations and researchers who can make the science about sodas appear confusing, and engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to create goodwill and silence critics. “

In ‘Soda Politics’, Professor Nestle follows the money trail wherever it leads, revealing how hard ‘Big Soda works’ to sell as much of their products as possible to an increasingly obese world.

She says ‘Soda Politics’ does more than just diagnose a problem - it encourages people to help find solutions.

“From Berkeley to Mexico City and beyond, advocates are successfully countering the relentless marketing, promotion, and political protection of sugary drinks,” she says.

“Their actions are having an impact - for all of the hardball and softball tactics the soft drink industry employs to maintain the status quo, soda consumption has been flat or falling for years.”

“Health advocacy campaigns are now the single greatest threat to soda companies' profits,” says Professor Nestle. “Soda Politics provides the tools needed to keep up pressure on Big Soda in order to build healthier and more sustainable food systems.”

The talk by Professor Nestle is on Monday 18 January from 12 – 1 pm at the Tāmaki Campus (Function room) and is hosted by the School of Population Health. For Professor Nestle's website, go to think link.  She also is an active blogger and her Twitter handle is @marionnestle .

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