Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ask a Coca-Cola Funded GEBN Scientist an Easy Question, Get a 560 Word Answer

A great many stories have been written following the New York Times' Anahad O'Connor's piece, Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets, including one published yesterday in Alternet
by journalist Ari LeVaux who asked Global Energy Balance Network Executive Committee member Dr. Marianella Herrera, a question which sure sounded straightforward to me,
"Do you think sugary beverages have a place in a healthy diet?"
Her answer, which I'll post in its entirety down below, when I cut and pasted it into Word, turned out to be 560 words long.

Honestly, if your answer to a straightforward question is 560 words long, you probably didn't want to answer it.

For what it's worth, I took a stab at answering it. My answer was 30 words long,
"Sugary beverages are a treat, but not a healthful one, and consequently the right amount to include in your diet is the smallest amount you need to enjoy your life."
And given that the question didn't ask me about them, I didn't offer up my thoughts on fear of being assaulted or robbed, gut flora, or sleep quality.

But then again, unlike Dr. Herrera, I don't receive grant support from Coca-Cola, nor am I am a member of the currently embattled, Coca-Cola funded, Global Energy Balance Network, and I genuinely can't guarantee that if I were, my fire-exit answer to a question that might lead me to be critical of my funders' (and potentially friends') products, wouldn't have resembled hers.

Motivated bias isn't something any of us are able to avoid, and with their funding of scientists and non-profits and more, that's definitely part what Coca-Cola is counting on.

Here is LeVaux and Herrera's full exchange:

Ari LeVaux:
Do you think sugary beverages have a place in a healthy diet?
Dr. Herrera:
More than say that sugary beverages can or cannot be a part of a healthy diet, let’s see facts: American Diabetes Association has a recommendation that people should limit the intake of sugary beverages because too much sugar is linked to developing type 2 diabetes, but also make the statement that if you want to consume sweets you should also take into consideration how you substitute the consumption of other carbs in your diet. In other words watch what you are eating and drinking. Is it bad to have a coke? No. Is it bad to drink 6 cans of coke a day? Yes, that might get you into trouble, as could get you into trouble eating a whole cake on a regular basis or a tin of ice cream every other day! What we want to tell people is go for fruits and veggies, have your protein portions consumed, go for the right fats and if you have your birthday you can have a piece of cake and relax, but go in moderation. What is also happening is there is an emphasis of dieting because it has proved to be a successful way to lose weight, which is a big issue today, but in this battle against obesity we might have forgotten other factors. For example: how about start thinking about stopping the weight gain? For that, lifestyle changes are key: exercising which has to be thought in terms of personal security in the developing world, have we thought really how many people are not exercising because they fear they will be assaulted, robbed, etc at nights which is the time many people have for exercising outdoors? How about improving the sleep quality, are we making enough education strategies for population understanding that hormone cycles released during sleep time are crucial for weight maintenance, for children’s growth, for the appetite regulation? Do we have access to good water in the developing world? How this affects the gut flora and in consequence increases the risk for being obese? As you see obesity is a complex multifactorial disease (it is a chronic disease according to WHO) so limiting the cause to just one factor would not be responsible in my perspective. So if you have a healthy lifestyle, eat in moderation, exercise, sleep well drink safe water, you might choose the foods you like if you know how to eat them. Getting people to like foods such as fruits and veggies is our major challenge and should start in early childhood. The American Diabetes Association has excellent resources that helps with some myths about sugar and points out how difficult is this approach.

And we have not addressed the issue that energy imbalance implies undernourishment for many people and that is also important to be highlighted here. There are many people particularly in the global south that suffer from hunger and while the causes of obesity might have different factors including a monotonous diet, don’t forget that now people might have some income that allows them to buy the cheapest foods (sugary beverages are not always the cheapest in the developing world) leading to the so called hidden hunger as a consequence of the social inequities in the access to healthy foods. As you see the topic is immense and please let me know if I’ve covered this enough for you!
At this point I'll remind you again of the New York Times' headline, Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.

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