Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Food Police Issuing Citations

The media was all over the news that the Center for Science in the Public Interest [CSPI] petitioned the FDA to place warning labels on sweetened beverages. In their petition, CSPI calls for warning labels on all beverages, carbonated and non-carbonated, that have 13g or more of added sugars.

At first glance many may think this is an idea worthy of consideration, afterall there is evidence to support the notion that soft drinks are linked to obesity.

The Growing Up Today Study, research out of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at the habits of 12,000 children and found that greater consumption of sugar-added beverages was associated with increases in weight over a two-year period. Additionally, researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston studied 548 children and found that for each additional serving of sugary drink, the risk of obesity increased significantly.

However, even I must admit, these finding did not prove that sweetened beverages cause obesity - they do suggest that sugary beverages play a contributing role but causation is not established firmly in the science here. The link is most likely because sweetened beverages provide "empty calories" - too many excess calories at the end of the day. This is more easily seen when you consider that other studies suggest our bodies don't register the calories we drink as well as the calories we chew. In additional studies, when study participants are given additional calories from a sugary drink, they don't compensate by reducing their calorie intake from foods. From this type of evidence, it seems that liquid calories add on to, rather than displace, food calories.

Contrary findings are also within the available data. Researchers from Queen's University in Ontario examined 137,593 youth from 34 countries to identify relationships between dietary and physical activity patterns and incidence of overweight. In the study, overweight was not tied to soft drink intake but was linked to lower physical activity level and more time spent watching television.

As much as I would prefer a clearer correlation on this issue, the jury is still out in the scientific evidence. Hey, I think my readers deserve an honest evaluation of the evidence that is available!

That said, I think the CSPI petition has the potential to lead us down a path toward a "nanny state" approach to diet and nutrition. Do we want or need the government - remember those public policy makers who gave us the Food Pyramid - to subjectively decide what food or beverage is healthy and what is not and then craft warning labels for those foods deemed unhealthy? What will be next on the "hit list" of potential foods some believe should carry a warning label? Butter? Eggs? Beef?

I think you, my readers, know by now I am all about eating a healthful diet and restricting or eliminating foods and ingedients that offer little in the way of nutrition. Such a dietary modification is however is a personal choice one makes to better their overall health through better nutrition. The CSPI petition offers nothing toward educating the public about good nutrition or healthy eating. In fact, the recommended warning label wording includes suggestions to consume diet soft drinks instead of sugary ones. The government, in my opinion, has no business promoting the use of artificial sweeteners. What consumers need is objective nutrition information to make informed choices, not arbitrary warning labels.

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