I like soda because it’s tasty (and I like most sweet things)

Lots of people have labeled soda “liquid candy.”  Who doesn’t love candy?  But somehow I’m supposed to believe the reason I like soda is that I’m a victim of marketing?  Nice try.  Still, interesting Wonkblog interview with the author of the new Soda Politics book:

Let’s talk about your new book. Millions of Americans buy soda every day. They choose to drink it. Why are they choosing to drink it?

I mean, most of it is marketing. Brilliant marketing. I have just come back from the World of Coca-Cola exhibit in Atlanta, and it’s breathtaking. If there’s one thing I learned from doing the research for this book is how extraordinarily comprehensive the marketing is around soda. I hadn’t appreciated that before.

Now I don’t doubt for a second that Coke and Pepsi are brilliant at marketing.  And that matters.  But again, they are selling a tasty product loaded with sugar.  I think that latter fact really has something to do with it.

Anyway, I also enjoyed finding out what an anomalous soda drinker I am as an educated, white-collar, married, (somewhat) older person:

There’s a table from an industry publication that lays out who drinks soda. Males drink more than females. Younger people drink more than older people. Single people drink more than those who are married. High school graduates drink more than college graduates. Blue collar workers drink more than white collar workers. Hispanics and African Americans drink more than whites and Asians. And people from the South drink more than do people in the Northeast.

I’m a demographic rebel.

As long as I’m at it, I’ve been meaning to post on this Atlantic piece on how Diet Sodas don’t cause weight gain if you are smart about their use.  For the record, I am.  I use them entirely to replace sugar-sweetened soda, not as some lie to myself that it’s healthy and I can therefore indulge elsewhere (as apparently, many must do).  Anyway:

The September issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition just published a meta-analysis of the existing research on artificial sweeteners and weight gain. The conclusion lands in support of artificial sweeteners in the right context, specifically when they are substituted for sugar. [emphasis mine] People tend to see “modest weight loss,” suggesting that low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) indeed “may be a useful dietary tool to improve compliance with weight-loss or weight-maintenance plans.”

That might seem obvious, but several studies have suggested that eating/drinking these nutritive sweeteners actually leads to weight gain. That has to do with satiety signals, effects on insulin levels, changes in the body’s fluid balances, and other not-immediately-apparent downstream factors.

In the 1970s, one study of 31,940 women found that saccharin users gained more weight than non-users. A 2008 study titled “Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-Term Weight Gain” looked at 3,682 participants in the famous San Antonio Heart Study and found that people who used artificial sweeteners gained more weight than non-users over the course of the trial. And a widely cited prospective study of 78,694 middle-aged women in the 1980s found that those who used artificial sweeteners were more likely to gain weight.

Those are all just correlations, but consuming artificial sweeteners in isolation has also been shown to make people hungrier later on. Dr. Barry Popkin, a distinguished professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, wrote in a recent literature review that since most artificial sweeteners aren’t consumed in isolation, that’s not really an issue. So the key distinction in studying and using these sweeteners is the idea of replacement as opposed to addition.

Meanwhile, I’d be remiss not to mention the Vox post that says soda is “(probably)” bad for you.  Of course, this post relies purely on correlations and “murky” scientific conclusions:

“So there are some studies that are reporting that consuming diet beverages actually contributes to weight gain,” said Malik. “Others report consuming diet beverages contribute to an increased risk of diabetes. Others say that’s not the case, that these studies are flawed.” Malik predicts we’ll have firmer answers in five years, as more studies are done.

Susan Swithers, a professor at Purdue University who has studied artificial sweeteners, agreed that the evidence is still murky. “Anybody who claims the consequences of diet soda for weight are clear is not understanding what the bulk of the literature actually says,” she told me.

My take?  Is Diet Soda good for you?  Of course not.  Is diet soda bad for you?  Yes, if you use it the wrong way.  Maybe even if you don’t.  But there’s very little evidence that an otherwise healthy-eating person (i.e., someone like me) is harmed by significant diet soda consumption.  Absent that evidence, I’ll keep at my Diet Coke and Diet Dr Pepper swigging ways.  And if that evidence does come out (I expect any truly negative impact is probably related to the microbiome) then I’ll consider a genuine risk assessment at that point.

 

Photo of the day

Why not a gallery from the World Beard and Mustache Championships?

Contestants pose.Jan Hetfleisch / Getty Images

Some perspective

From a Wonkblog post in June:

But I’m sure if there were even more guns, this would somehow all be bettter :-).  And, of course, there’s copious evidence that reducing guns dramatically reduces suicide.  Period.

Changing the status quo is hard; even when Dems and Republicans agree

There’s some real optimism for sentencing reform as people across the political spectrum are agreeing on the failure of our overly-punitive, overly expensive policies.  Rebecca Thorpe writes about it in the Monkey Cage:

Interest groups on the left and the right are finding common cause in prison reform, with backing both from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the tea party-affiliated Freedom Works and arch-conservative Koch Industries. Locally and nationally, Republicans and Democrats together are crafting proposed reforms to moderate mandatory sentencing and drug laws. Both Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls are denouncing harsh punishments for nonviolent offenders. Some states are experimenting with the decriminalization of marijuana. Many observers are optimistic that mass incarceration will soon be undone.

Alas, two problems.  The first I’ve mentioned before:

First, there is a common misperceptionperpetuated by mainstream politicians who want to reform the criminal justice system that most prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. This idea is false.

The second, though, is even harder.  This change is fighting entrenched interests who benefit from the status quo:

The second reason is more disturbing. Mass incarceration solved two major problems for a country whose collapsing industrial base left the poor and working classes without jobs.

The “tough on crime” movement did this in two ways. First, outsize numbers of jobless young black men who lived in impoverished urban districts were designated as criminals, taken off the streets and put in warehouses. Second, prisons became a jobs program for rural America…  [emphasis mine]

Instead, rural communities built hundreds of prisons in the 1980s and 1990s, accounting for most new prison growth. Local policymakers took advantage of the expanding prison sector’s demand for cheap land and untapped labor to bring jobs and capital to economically distressed, rural communities.

The political consequences are self-perpetuating. Alhough prisons do not typically improve the local economy in the long run, many underdeveloped rural spaces don’t have other jobs available. They come to rely on prisons for jobs and revenue, as much as if it were a new textile or auto parts factory. That creates political pressure to keep prisons full.

Second, the federal census counts prison inmates as residents of the communities where the prison is located. That inflates population counts in otherwise shrinking rural areas — and determines both how many political representatives the area gets as well as the formulas for state and federal support for such services as social welfare and economic development.

As a result, prison towns get more political representation and more local funding. Meanwhile, predominantly non-white urban communities lose both…

State lawmakers representing rural communities with correctional institutions make up a consistent and powerful voting bloc to uphold harsh sentencing laws and block criminal law reform. Prison jobs are extremely important for rural communities. That’s why some Democratic state legislators routinely defy their party’s leaders and oppose measures to curb imprisonment. Their districts’ reliance on prison jobs and capital trumps any concerns about state budgets and partisan pressures.

Depressing, isn’t it?  There’s no reason to give up hope, but just because we’ve got both left and right in general agreement is far from a guarantee of meaningful change.  Status quo bias can be a real bitch.

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