As a science site, one thing we understand is physics and how it can be exculpatory - no snowflake in an avalance ever has to take the blame.
The American Beverage Association(ABA) knows this too. They are the trade association representing the broad spectrum of companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the United States - that means soda and juice but also water and things that are basically good for you. Dr. Maureen Storey is their senior vice president for science policy and former director of the University of Maryland's Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy.
The ABA recognizes there is a lot of talk about childhood obesity and the link to sugary drinks. Since no snowflake in an avalanche takes the blame, that means obesity should be Doritos or it can be bread or it can be bad parents who buy their kids sugary drinks but the one thing that cannot definitively be linked to obesity are sugary drinks or the advertising departments at sugary drink companies. To prove this, Storey and colleagues did a meta-analysis (see notes) of 12 recent studies and published it in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
They make a fine point and one we have made here over and over - the source of the calories is basically irrelevant. It's also something of a straw man.
But as earnest as Storey is, you aren't hired as senior vice president for science policy of a group representing soda and juice companies unless you already believed they are not to blame. The last thing they need is person coming in and writing an article that says 'we are making children fat.' It makes for great "60 Minutes" stories and movies starring Russell Crowe but clients tend to be angry.
In the early 1990s sugary drink companies and public schools teamed up to put junk food in cafeterias. It's your fault, the American public was told, because schools are under-funded. We then had to endure stories about how every teacher was sacrificing to buy pencils for students so junk food was necessary.
15 years later and we have a generation of obese children but no one is at fault. Groups like the American Beverage Association win either way - since all calories are the same (that's right, a big salad and a small candy bar are the same in calories so if you forget nutritional value, i.e., you are an idiot, you are buying that logic) they can now replace full-calorie drinks with low calorie drinks. As long as the vending machines stay and they're stocked with bottles, it's a marketing victory.
Then they can do advertising campaigns telling kids to go outside and exercise - but take a sports drink so you remain healthy.
The one thing beverage companies will not do is take any blame. Especially not if they can find someone else to blame.
"My co-authors and I carefully analyzed 12 studies using scientifically validated methods and found that there is virtually no association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain in children and teens," Storey said. "In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that reducing or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages would have almost no impact on children and teens weight. While other investigators have reached other conclusions, our findings are consistent with three recently published review articles that concluded that the evidence that adolescent consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages leads to weight gain is 'weak or equivocal.'"
Is there methodical weakness in that statement? Of course there is. I have lived most of my life in the convergence business, solving Maxwell's Equations, and the one thing you can be sure of is that if you accept a bad model and you run an analysis, it will still converge. It will even converge to 0.01% accuracy. But it won't be the right answer.
It's that Bertrand Russell idea that once a contradiction is allowed into a closed system anything can be proven. When someone challenged him with "if 2 plus 2 equals 5, prove that I am the pope." Russell responded: "If 2 plus 2 is 5, then 4 is 5; if 4 is 5, then (subtracting three from each side) 1 is 2; you and the pope are two, therefore you and the pope are one."
He should have worked for the American Beverage Association.
Article: Richard A Forshee, Patricia A Anderson and Maureen L Storey,'Sugar-sweetened beverages and body mass index in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis', American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 6, 1662-1671, June 2008, PMID: 18541554
Notes on meta analysis:
Meta analysis is a set of statistical techniques for combining information from different studies to derive an overall estimate of a scientific effect. Some studies will show a greater effect, some will show a lesser effect—perhaps not even statistically significant. Meta-analysis combines data from different studies just as data can be combined from different individuals within a single study.
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