Growing Soda Habit Leads to Early Grave for Thousands of Americans, Study Finds

"Heart disease and diabetes are complex problems with no single cause and no simple solutions. Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is not a risk factor" for either condition, the American Beverage Association (ABA) wrote in a press release on the analysis.

The ABA is a trade organization that represents the interests of beverage companies such as Pepsico and Coca-Cola.

"Sugars are sugars, calories are calories," said Maureen Storey, nutritionist and senior vice president of science policy at the ABA, so there should be no difference in obesity or disease risk for someone drinking high-fructose-corn-syrup-sweetened soda or 100 percent juice.

"Your body is not smart enough to figure out whether the sugar was add by a manufacturer or by nature," she added. "As far as I know, there is no scientific data to prove that high fructose corn syrup is any worse for you than any other kind of sugar."

When questioned about studies showing that processed sugars have a higher glycemic index, and thus a greater impact insulin resistance and diabetes risk, Storey said, "People get confused. That's a laboratory experiment, not real life."

Instead, the ABA believes that sodas and SSBs can be part of a healthy lifestyle, as long as people learn to balance out the calories they consume through the drinks with exercise and healthy eating.

Towards this effort, the ABA supports comprehensive nutritional education and has helped put programs into place that remove full-calorie drinks from school cafeterias.

Towards a Soda Tax

But there may not be much room for spending "discretionary" calories on soda if someone is eating a balanced diet, said Dr. Robert Eckel, a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

"If someone's drinking three 16-ounce Pepsis, ultimately it is either replacing a lot of calories that should go towards healthy food or they're gaining a lot of weight," Eckel said.

To encourage Americans to spend their calories elsewhere -- hopefully on more healthful indulgences -- many policymakers support the use of a "soda tax" on all beverages with sugar added, including sodas, sweetened ice teas and chocolate milk.

In his research on the subject, Dr. Kelly Brownell, the director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, said he "propose[s] a one-cent-per-ounce tax, which should decrease consumption by 23 percent -- that's enough to decrease health care costs by $50 billion over a 10-year time span."

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recently went further than the standard penny-an-ounce approach, proposing a two-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, which would add $1.44 to the price of a six-pack of soda.

More and more cities and states are considering such a tax, Brownell said, but not if the beverage industry has anything to do with it.

In 2009 alone, the ABA spent $18.8 million lobbying against soda taxes, according to Kevin Keane, senior vice president for public affairs at the ABA, and most of that was spent in the last two quarters, when there was talk of a federal soda tax.

"This is a flat out attack on our industry," said Christopher Gindlesperger, director of communications at the ABA. "It's a discriminatory tax put on the back of hard working families. ... People don't want the government digging around in their shopping cart."

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