Two articles caught our eye over the weekend, one from Britain’s The Observer (owned by The Guardian), advocating for the government to regulate into oblivion all sugary foods and drinks, and another from Time, questioning the morality and effectiveness of corporate social responsibility campaigns. The problem with both, though, is that they ignore numerous scientific studies contradictory to their positions, the ultimate effect being that The Observer is plain wrong, while Time is biased and one-sided at best.
According to The Observer’s editorialists, “Too much responsibility is on the individual and not enough on the corporations. Regulation has yet to catch up with science.” Perhaps not surprisingly, they go on to praise Michael Bloomberg’s judicially invalidated soda ban and advocate heavily for the imposition of a soda tax, among other regulations. The problem with this position is that soda taxes have been proven ineffective at meaningfully lowering calorie consumption, which is their supposed goal. As we recently wrote, a scientific study found that instituting a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages only decreased overall calorie consumption by a measly 14 calories per day – the equivalent of three Skittles.
The Observer clearly demonstrates that its editorial is ultimately agenda-driven rather than science-based by its finger-pointing at high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). As we have written many times before, studies have definitively shown that HFCS and sugar actually contain comparable amounts of fructose: HFCS is 42 or 55 percent fructose (depending on in what kind of food or beverage it is used), while sucrose, reined from beets and sugarcane, is 50 percent fructose. Ultimately, obesity is a matter of calories being out of balance, not HFCS being particularly bad. (Interestingly, USDA data show that Americans actually consume 41 percent more calories per day from beet and cane sugar than from HFCS.) So please, enough already with the HFCS scare-mongering – it’s old and untrue.
Meanwhile Time, in arguing that corporations’ health campaigns are ineffective, cites Kantha Shelke, a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT): “Industry groups also make some dramatic claims about the positive impact their social responsibility campaigns are having, but when it comes to lowering obesity rates and improving people’s health, . . . the evidence is relatively thin.” Had “Industry” been replaced with “Food Police” in that quote, we would have never known the difference. Of course, as just discussed, The Observer editorial is a perfect example of people making such dramatic claims despite having no evidence on their side. But engaging in such one-sided charges is critical to the activists’ goal of following a misguided playbook to demonize companies and take choice away.
The real best advice is, again, simple in form but difficult in practice: Eat less, exercise more, repeat indefinitely. But since that is hard advice that doesn’t sell magazines or newspapers, activists — like the authors of these articles — want to take away consumers’ rights. At the end of the day though, individual responsibility is the key to reducing obesity, and no amount of government regulation or foodie propaganda will change that.