New York City Mayor (and professional irritant) Michael Bloomberg has launched an all-out war against food and drink, particularly soda. Tossing and turning every night over the prospect that someone in America might be enjoying a beverage that tastes better than tap water, Bloomberg has proposed banning soft drinks from food-stamp purchases. He’s also launched a major PR campaign bashing soda consumption for its supposed impact on obesity. The point man for Bloomberg’s mission is New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. Today they all have major egg on their faces. As The New York Times reports, Farley knew his campaign was built on a foundation of lies.
To say the Big Apple public health hand-wringers are willfully ignoring established medical research is an understatement. (We've been challenging Farley’s claims in particular for years.) One Harvard study of 14,000 children found that “there was not a strong association between intake of snack foods and weight gain” – including when soda was added. A Penn State study found essentially the same thing. On the other hand, research has consistently shown a link between obesity and a lack of exercise, as well as lack of sleep.
Last year, Farley and his food-cop cohorts released a video ad showing a man drinking "liquid fat" out of a soda can. More than 20 seconds into the revolting footage, the ad warns that drinking just one can of soda every day can make you ten pounds fatter per year. But is it true?
Relying on the Freedom of Information Act, the Times obtained Internal e-mails between Farley and several nutritionists and public health experts. This correspondence reveals scientists screaming (through their keyboards) that the ad was scientifically unsupportable. They also show Farley refusing to listen:
“CAUTION,” the nutritionist, Cathy Nonas, wrote in a memorandum to her colleagues on Aug. 20, 2009. “As we get into this exacting science, the idea of a sugary drink becoming fat is absurd.” The scientists, she said, “will make mincemeat of us.”
But Dr. Farley argued that the advertisements had to have a message that would motivate people to change their behavior. “I think what people fear is getting fat,” he wrote.
Dr. Sabira Taher warned, “We know gaining and losing weight isn’t that cut and dry — some people can drink and eat whatever they want and still maintain their weight without doing an incredible amount of exercise to burn off the extra calories.” Dr. Michael Rosenbaum of Columbia University cautioned that the ad was “misleading in that there is no reference to energy output changes.”
Eventually, the guiding question became, in the words of Dr. Nonas, “What can we get away with?”
Despite dissent from experts, they eventually settled on the ten-pound figure. Dr. Taher put it best when she noted, “The science absolutely weakens our potential for mass distribution.”
You don’t say. We could have told Farley his whole campaign was B.S. long before he wasted taxpayer money to develop it.
The truth is that soft drinks can expand your waistline – as can every other food or drink that contains calories. But sodas aren’t uniquely fattening. A banana contains almost as many calories as a can of Sprite. And when they're made with artificial sweeteners, diet sodas don’t contain any calories at all.
Let’s hope this is the final nail in the coffin of Bloomberg’s silly food scolding. And always remember that some so-called "experts" driven by anti-food ideology are willing to fudge the facts to control what we all eat and drink.