If you’re looking for proof that our understanding of nutritional science isn’t yet developed enough to justify multi-million-dollar lawsuits against restaurants and food producers, consider the conventional wisdom coming out of North Carolina. Editorializing on Saturday, Raleigh’s News and Observer blamed childhood obesity on sugared soft drinks. “For each can of sugary soda a child drinks in a day,” claimed the paper’s editors, “his or her obesity rises 1.6 times, as measured by the Harvard School of Public Health.”
Based on this one flimsy piece of widely misunderstood science, The News and Observer is demanding “no sugar-sweetened soda [be] sold in schools, at lunch or any time.” For what it’s worth, this Harvard study (by Dr. David Ludwig) actually concluded “there is no clear evidence that consumption of sugar per se affects food intake in a unique manner or causes obesity.” The media frenzy surrounding this study so thoroughly overwhelmed its more sober conclusions that we are still seeing its effects.
Now, less than 30 miles down the road from Raleigh, weight-loss researchers at Duke University have found that sugar is getting a bad rap. According to the Palm Beach Post, the Duke scientists found that people “lose equal weight on calorie-controlled high-sugar and no-sugar diets.” So if obesity is just a measure of extra calories coming in, without enough of them being burned by exercise, aren’t marketing restrictions and lawsuits against food providers a bit, say, premature?
In his most recent opus, David Ludwig (yes the same Dr. Ludwig) provides few answers: just more demands. Included in what he calls “a common sense approach” to dealing with childhood obesity, Ludwig now wants governments to step in and eliminate all “unhealthy foods” from vending machines, levy “a tax on fast food and soft drinks,” “prohibit food advertising and marketing directed at children,” and even “regulate political contributions from the food industry.”
Whether or not Ludwig’s ideas catch on, the litigation train is leaving the station. Speaking for all aggrieved overweight persons who hope to turn their lifestyle decisions into a quick McPayoff, tobacco lawyer John Banzhaf told CBS News viewers last week: “We’re going to sue them and sue them and sue them, and I think ultimately, as with tobacco, we’re going to win.”