Soda Sales Go Flat, Industry Fights Back

On the surface it seemed like a double blow to the soda industry. 

According to data released earlier this month by Beverage Digest, an industry trade journal, the number of cases of soda sold in the United States has declined for the first time in 20 years.  In case your subscription to Beverage Digest has lapsed, I'll share the figures.  The case volume in 2005 was down 0.7 percent, to a mere 10.2 billion cases of soda.

A study in the journal Pediatrics this month showed a direct correlation between weight gain in teenagers and the consumption of soda and other sugary drinks.

In case your subscription to Pediatrics has lapsed, too: The study involved 103 teenagers who were regularly consuming about 350 calories worth of sugary drinks a day.  Half of these kids were given a supply of bottled water, unsweetened teas and other non-caloric drinks for 25 weeks.  This led to an 82 percent drop in the consumption of the sugary stuff and a weight loss of about a pound a month.  There was no weight loss, of course, in the control group.

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But before you shed a tear for the soda industry, keep in mind the underreported fact that while sales were down last year, sales revenue went up because the prices were higher.  And Coca-Cola and PepsiCo own over half the bottled water market, anyway, as well as a considerable amount of the tea trade.

Nevertheless, the American Beverage Association, a lobbying group for the beverage industry, quickly lashed out at the study with this classic, pro-industry statement:  "It stands to reason that anyone could lose weight if calories from any certain food or beverage are removed and not replaced by other calories.  Soft drinks are not distinctive in this regard."

That's right.  And how bad is smoking for you, really, when you replace it with eating dioxin?

This is industry smokescreen and bad medicine.  At issue here is the concept of empty calories.  Sugary drinks offer little nutritional value.  They are liquid candies.  A 20-ounce bottle of regular soda pop contains nearly 70 grams of sugar, almost five tablespoons.  A gram is about the weight of a raisin.  Fill a glass with 70 raisins, and you'll get an idea of how much sugar you're ingesting when you drink soda.

Think back to those kids drinking 350 calories a day.  The average person needs about 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day.  So more than 15 percent of these kids' calories are providing no nutrients.  Two 20-ounce Cokes total 500 calories, a quarter of the quota.  This is clearly not conducive to weight management.

And the American Beverage Association is wrong about soda being just like any other 350 calories.  Simple, processed sugars in soda, such as corn syrup, quickly raise blood sugar levels and over-tax the insulin-producing pancreas, a major cause of diabetes.

The beverage industry should welcome the news of declining soda sales and adverse health affects.  Bottled filtered water, as opposed to spring water and mineral water, is municipal tap water filtered to an unspecified degree (company secret).  This kind of bottled water is soda without the soda, sold for about the same price.  I thought these guys would have read the soda health report and drunk it up.


Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books “Bad Medicine” and “Food At Work.” Got a question about Bad Medicine? Email Wanjek. If it’s really bad, he just might answer it in a future column.

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