In an exercise in “statistical hocus pocus,” this summer a team of Harvard academics published a headline-grabbing soda slam in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association). The authors, many of whom have a history of attacking pop and working with the nutrition zealots at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), claimed that drinking soda is linked with diabetes. Study co-author Walter Willett even squawked to the press: “The message is: Anyone who cares about their health or the health of their family would not consume these beverages.” But as the October issue of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter reports, one of the study’s co-authors — a CSPI scientific advisory board member — acknowledged that the hysteria surrounding her anti-soda study falls flat.

Co-author JoAnn Manson told the Tufts Letter that the study only “points to a possibility” and is “not the final word.” Further:

She explains, compared to other risk factors for diabetes — weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle — a relatively large amount of sugar from sweetened beverages is “not tremendously important.” It “shouldn’t be over-emphasized,” she says. “There’s more evidence for unrefined whole grains and a high-fiber diet preventing diabetes than for sugar-sweetened beverages causing it.”

As we discussed in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Manson, Willett, and their co-authors concede that their observations about type 2 diabetes may “reflect dietary and lifestyle changes accompanying changes in soft drink consumption” — behaviors such as smoking or inactivity, rather than soda consumption itself. Making essentially the same point, the vice president of Health Care and Education for the American Diabetes Association told the Tufts Letter: “We have to look at the whole picture rather than teasing out one piece. We need to pay attention to the total calories. We cannot label one food over another as causing obesity.”