As I sit and write this in a small boutique café, waiting for a friend to finish work, a waitress offers me a free Coke to enjoy. Of course in writing about the unfavorable soda industry, this perfect irony was certainly not lost on me. But I realized that there is virtually no food service businesses in existence that do not offer soft drinks. We visit restaurants that might not serve particular foods, such as pasta or cakes or donuts or meat, but fizzy sugar waters are always available (and often with free refills).
Life has become this way because Big Food (the food and beverage multinationals) run the show. They are the master puppeteers, pulling the strings and controlling what directions we move, ensuring the hands of policy makers are placed directly over eyes and ears. It’s the reason food policy expert Marion Nestle aptly stated, “It’s hard to believe how thoroughly Congress is in bed with the food industry.”
But a new study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute believes the Big Food goliaths, namely the addictive high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) ‘empire’ may soon be under attack by governments and consumers.
The Sugary Details Are Sour
The 2013 study, ”Sugar: Consumption at a crossroads“ found that the average adult in the US consumes 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. That’s the current world record and no real surprise given that America has the highest rate of adult obesity (34 percent) and second highest rate of childhood obesity (35 percent). Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Australia come close, indulging in an average of 35 to 38 teaspoons of sugar per person, per day. For the record, with an average of 7 teaspoons per day, China consumes the least among the world’s largest countries.
This trend of extreme sugar intake now has experts predicting that global healthcare system costs for treating type II diabetes will reach US $700 billion by 2020. That will be around 15-20 percent of total healthcare costs (the cost of treating any and all illnesses) the world over.
Consequently, the Credit Suisse study reports consumers have now begun to raise an eyebrow at the products Big Food are producing and advertising to ourselves and our children. It’s believed that eventually, pressure from consumers, medical professionals and legislators will turn the tide on sugar’s dominance.
“From the expansion of ‘high intensity’ natural sweeteners to an increase in social responsibility messages from beverage manufacturers, we see green shoots for dietary changes and social health advancement,” says Stefano Natella, lead author of the study. “We expect growth in sugar consumption – which has paralleled that of the growth in the world population at around two percent a year – to come under pressure, even though it make take a few years.”
“But you can‘t prove sugar-sweetened products are to blame,“ they say…
Coca Cola die-hards and shareholders are right; you can’t prove sugary products are the direct cause of our diabetes crisis. There are just too many variables and no definitive answers at the moment, hence why the multinationals haven’t been sued by every one-footed diabetic sufferer.
However, the study did find that close to 90 percent of GPs across the US, Europe and Asia firmly believe the growth in type II diabetes and associated obesity is strongly linked to excessive sugar consumption. So that’s nine out of 10 doctors pointing the finger at excess sugar in the diet. Surely companies cannot still claim “coincidence”?
Why Big Food Will Not Be Defeated
Unfortunately, the predicted pressure to be confronted by the food and beverage multinationals is going to be enforced by: a government that always crumbles under Big Food’s pressure, medical professionals with limited influence and impressionable consumers who are actually too busy in their own lives to give a damn. With our powers combined, we’ll amass to the equivalent of a 17th century, noisy, angry village mob.
With torches and pitchforks raised at the gates of the HFCS Empire, we’re hoping to somehow breakthrough and topple the guards, challenging the legendary lobbying power of the sugar industry, which as Natella puts it, “is often referred to as the second most political commodity in the world – after oil.”
And what’s the secret weapon in the arsenal of this Angry Mob? The powerful “sin tax,” a tariff on added sugar-laden foods similar to taxes on alcohol and tobacco. The stark problem with this weapon however, is that given the array of foods available and the mash up of their nutrients — from cans of Red Bull to venti caramel lattes — taxing foods on sugar content alone is far too delicate and complicated to work effectively. This shot’s going to misfire.
The Beverage Industry Are Always in Control
Let’s not turn a blind eye to the glaringly obvious: Big Food are prepared for this attack. Despite desperately trying to deflect responsibility for our diabetes epidemic, the beverage multinationals are fast working on newer and tastier sugar-free products marketed as the go-to for health conscious soda drinkers. In fact, the report cites that Swiss giant Nestle is already paying artificial sweetener producers to conjure up more innovative sugar replacements.
Big Food know that even if the Angry Mob do miraculously overthrow the HFCS Empire and sugary drinks are banished to oblivion, they’ll be ready to pick up and relocate with artificially sweetened diet sodas in hand. They’re brave, no doubt about it, and will transform the iconic red of Coke into the jet black of Coke Zero if they have to.
The Artificial Icing on the Cake
So what’s wrong with the (incredibly unlikely) Coke Zero scenario if sugar-laden drinks are dead and buried?
Artificial sweeteners easily trick your metabolism, which can cause excessive insulin secretion, just like sugary drinks do. “Natural” sweeteners such as Stevia are not as natural as you think, and sweeteners such as aspartame, found in the struggling Diet Coke, are strongly linked with weight gain.
Put simply, artificial chemicals are not good for you, thus sweeteners are not a healthy alternative. If we continue to ignore this fact too, we’ll end up back where we started: Big Food will control what consumers eat and drink, consumers will fall ill and perish and governments will cough up billions for the treatment. A modern-day plague all over again.
Please, can somebody tell me what happened to drinking water?
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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