The California legislature’s top lifestyle nanny has finally scored a win. Deborah Ortiz’s bill to phase out soft drinks in schools passed the state Senate last week and was sent to the state Assembly.
It’s not the California senator’s first anti-soda bill. Last year Ortiz tried to pass legislation that would have imposed a two-cent tax on every can of soda, and a nine-cent tax on every two-liter bottle sold in California — at a cost to consumers of as much as $300 million a year. Ortiz is also sponsoring a bill — using the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) “model” language (word-for-word) — that would require all chain restaurants to slap nutritional information on every item sold.
The soda-ban legislation uses two highly flawed Harvard studies to claim that soda contributes to poor health. The Ortiz bill claims: “A study of 9th and 10th grade girls found that those who drank colas were five times more likely to develop bone fractures.” That’s from a study by Grace Wyshak, who failed to measure bone density, and didn’t ask how much soda her subjects consumed. Wyshak also admits that “causality cannot be inferred from [her] data.“
“Each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened soda increases a child’s risk for obesity by 60 percent,” writes Ortiz. That absurd statistic comes from a study by David Ludwig, but Ludwig himself writes: “[T]here is no clear evidence that consumption of sugar per se affects food intake in a unique manner or causes obesity.” He also admits that his study “cannot prove causality.”
Ludwig didn’t take into account other possible causes of obesity. According to an editorial accompanying his study: “A large proportion of the children [in the study] were obese” to start with. “Perhaps many children in Ludwig and colleagues’ study had pre-existing difficulties with energy regulation that explained why they were fat at the start of the experiment,” the editorial concludes.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is adamant: “There are no data from the Harvard [Ludwig] study that allow us to make an estimate of what proportion of obesity might be accounted for by changes in soft drink consumption.“
Ludwig, however, is fonder of melodramatic rhetoric than sound science. In a Boston Globe editorial last week (co-written with Twinkie-tax-pusher Kelly Brownell), he wrote: “[T]he obesity epidemic threatens the foundations of our society as would a massive SARS outbreak.” No agenda there, we’re sure.
The fact is, there is simply no evidence that soda causes obesity. Studies conducted by the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, for example, found no link between pop consumption and obesity in kids between ages 12 and 18. Often the thinnest kids were the biggest soda consumers. And soft drinks don’t appear to cause tooth decay — cavities have decreased while soda consumption has increased in the U.S.
Ortiz is more interested in attacking one industry than curbing childhood obesity. The evidence? Her bill also bans diet soda. Even Ludwig’s study found that increasing their consumption of diet soft drinks made children less likely to become obese. Indeed, while obesity rates in the US were supposedly skyrocketing, Americans purchased more and more diet soda. The Wall Street Journal reported that from July 2001 to 2002, diet soda sales grew at more than twice the rate of their higher-calorie counterparts.
If Ortiz were interested in obesity, rather than demonizing one industry, her bill — by the twisted logic of the anti-obesity cabal — would go after all high-calorie drinks. Instead, she allows fruit drinks if they contain at least 50 percent juice with no added sweeteners, and sports drinks if they contain no more than 42 grams of added sweeteners per every 20 ounces.
Of course, Ortiz isn’t the first person to demonize pop. In Denver, activists poured soda down gutters, chanting, “Dump Pepsi now!” These anti-consumer zealots plan to use school soda bans as — in their words — a “wedge issue” to create new government regulation around all sorts of foods and beverages.
There are plenty of reasons to reject a school soda ban, besides the lack of a scientific foundation for such legislation:
Parents and teachers should be trying to educate children to make good choices. But kids will never learn how to do this if products are simply banned from school grounds.
Ortiz’ bill takes power away from local school districts, teachers, and parents — those who should really have responsibility for raising children — and gives it to the state government.
Does the government really want students leaving school grounds en masse to buy their favorite beverages? Ortiz obviously doesn’t know any teenagers — they’re not likely to stop drinking cola or root beer just because she tells them to.
Even the leading lady in the food nanny drama, Marion Nestle, author of the anti-food-choice diatribe Food Politics, gives this sound advice: “I think people should use their common sense. Any food is reasonable; just don’t eat too much of it.“