Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Coca-Cola's Chief Scientific Officer's Staggering Cognitive Dissonance

That's the nice way to look at it.

How else could you explain her defense of a product (sugar sweetened beverages) that accounts for a full 7% of total consumed calories and is itself devoid of any nutritional benefit?

Rhona S. Applebaum, vice president and chief scientific and regulatory officer at The Coca-Cola Co., in an article first published in the Sacramento Bee (since removed from their site it seems so I've linked to a web cache), states that,

"If we are really honest with ourselves, we know that no one group or sector can solve this problem alone and searching for a silver bullet that miraculously stops obesity is just not realistic. Targeting scapegoats or pointing fingers is simply a waste of energy."
Hmmmm, let's see.....while it's true that no single raindrop thinks it's responsible for the flood, and while one sandbag alone's not going to do the trick, what if there were one sandbag that could target 36% of the floodwater (will get to that number momentarily)? That'd be one helluva sandbag, no?

So what does Dr. Applebaum recommend? That,
"Instead, we should apply our energy to solutions that have been shown to work."
I'm sorry Dr. Applebaum - I'm not familiar with any interventions that to date have been shown to work, especially not those you allude to including more physically active jobs and of course, just moving more.

It's curious that moving is what Dr. Applebaum points her finger at all the while talking about solutions that have been "shown to work" given that there has never been any real world studies demonstrating a dramatic impact of exercise on weight loss. Nor am I aware of any public health interventions that have ever sustained increases in population based exercise levels. As far as real world studies go some suggest that even exercising an hour a day for 20 years won't protect against weight gain, and with kids, that a 10 fold difference in activity won't matter a whit.

Recently one of my favourite bloggers Stephan Guyenet posted a graph that might interest Dr. Applebaum. It's a graph superimposing America's weight gain with caloric intake over time.

So since 1970 or so we've seen caloric intake rise by roughly 550 calories per day.

If we take the beverage industry's own data at face value, that for the average American sugared beverages account for a staggering 7% of their total daily calories, that would account for 196 of the 550 calories we're now over consuming as a nation, or to put that another way, 36% of the 550 calorie a day flood. Now to be fair, we were drinking sugar sweetened beverages back in 1970 - but rates of consumption since then have tripled. Subtracting 1970 consumption from today still leaves Dr. Applebaum's baby accounting for a full 24% of the flood.

Sure seems like one hell of a juicy raindrop/giant sandbag to target to me, and frankly anyone who thinks differently I'd argue is either mired in some cogency crippling cognitive dissonance, or is on someone's corporate payroll.

Or both.

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  1. Aren't you getting bored of hearing their physical activity argument over and over again? I sure am.

    Plus that 7% figure is itself a misrepresentation. Marion Nestle pointed out on her blog yesterday that it is an average across all americans, soda drinkers and non-soda drinkers alike, and that the % of calories soda contributes among soda drinkers is significantly higher.

  2. I guess most of us are satisfied with your argument. But for those who are still looking for more hard data this recent systematic review may be interesting.


    Sugar sweetened beverages are the only carb sources clearly linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. See table on page 50.

    "Furthermore, a high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases the
    risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus, whereas a high
    dietary fibre intake, mainly from whole-grain products, reduces
    the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipoproteinaemia,
    cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer
    at varying evidence levels."

  3. Anonymous7:57 am

    You would have to be insanely naive to believe that a company would stand up and say "yes it's all our fault".

    Consider orange juice
    3g/oz of sugar

    Compare to cola:
    3.25g/oz of sugar

    (source: http://www.sugarstacks.com/beverages.htm)

    So obviously if everyone stopped drinking cola and switched to OJ then the situation would be the same.

    Since colas of various forms have been around for at least a century, the real question is why (or how) did people in general start stuffing their faces around 1980?

    Did high calorie, less filling foods become prevalent? What I mean by that is you could drink 1000 calories of cola relatively easily but an equivalent in say, apples would be much more difficult.

    Pricing conspriracy? Government subsidies in some sectors and not others that skewed market prices? Is that when high fructose corn syrup appeared?

    Are sugary drinks a problem? Hell yes.

    The real question that needs to be answered is "what happened in the 80s?". Answer that question and you've taken a big step towards solving the problem.

  4. What happened in the 80's? The government told Americans to cut their fat intake to lose weight and lower cholesterol. http://jhmas.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/139.full

  5. Enjoyed your visit to CBC Ottawa earlier this week. Always insightful to hear your perspective. Keep up the great work!

  6. Roman Korol9:34 am

    Yoni, a clarification please. You write that, going by the industry's own data, sugared beverages account for a staggering 7% of [Americans'] total daily calories and that this accounts for 196 of the 550 calories we're now over consuming as a nation.

    Question: how do you get the figure of "196 calories"? I see that x = 196 ÷ 0.07 = 2,800 cal, leading one to infer that x, the average total daily calories consumed nowadays, must be 2,800. From there, we can further infer that the 196 calories are all over-consumption, hence part of that 550 excess calories or 36%. Is that what it means? If not, please explain. Thanks for the fine article!

  7. Yup, that's exactly the back of the envelope calculation that I made.

  8. Wow, I'm still trying to get past the fact that Coca-Cola has a "Chief Scientific Officer." Talk about cognitive dissonance.

  9. Come on - you know that 36% # is untrue. You obviously have to factor in previous consumption (which yields you your ~25%), but even mentioning that 36% is a sensationalism.

    Also, 7% of 2600 calories (current calorie consumption) yields 182 calories. So then re-calculating the math, we arrive at 21.5% of the flood is from sodas (this of course assumes that consumption was at 64 calories at the "start").

    Soda is crap. No doubt about that. It literally has no benefits. But the underlining issue really is calories, and I'd rather focus on controlling portions.

  10. Roman Korol9:54 am

    @appetite4profit made a very apt comment on Twitter, that Coca Cola is the new Philip Morris. It is that, indeed!

  11. I don't think she has any cognitive dissonance. She works for Coca Cola, and probably believes what she is saying.

    Even if she didn't, as Coca Cola's CSO, she has to support the company, using "facts" to support her argument. And frankly, I'd be thoroughly shocked for her to come out, especially the week the NY "Coke Ban" is in the press, and say that it is the fault of Big Soda.

  12. Denial is a very powerful thing indeed.

  13. Anonymous7:29 pm

    How does she sleep at night?

    1. Anonymous12:04 am

      Probably much better than you at night, given she has the courage and competence to speak her opinion without the mask of anonymity. I enjoy this website for its meaningful scientific and fact-based discussion, not personal jabs with no intellectual basis. Perhaps you should make something of yourself to the point where you don't need to post anonymously.

      Maybe we can both work on ourselves to the point where we don't need to post anonymously :(

  14. Intellectual dishonesty at its finest :-(