Monday, July 23, 2018

The Obesity Society Weighs In On Soda Taxes To......Double Checks Notes......Caution Against Them

The Obesity Society (TOS), who in their own words are,
"the leading scientific membership organization advancing the science-based understanding of the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of obesity in order to improve the lives of those affected."
has finally weighed in on soda taxes.

In their formal press release, The Obesity Society Calls for More Research on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax (and reminder, it costs money to issue press releases), TOS called into question the benefits of soda taxes stating,
"Countries across the globe have generated headlines recently over their efforts to tax sugar, tobacco and alcohol products. Even though tobacco and alcohol taxation has helped to reduce consumption and save lives, these beneficial effects have not yet been proven for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)."
They go on to quote TOS President-elect Steven Heymsfield as stating that they may not help with obesity,
"Although taxing SSBs might generate revenue that can be used to promote other healthy food items, the net outcome may not necessarily decrease overweight and obesity rates in the United States or worldwide"
And finally they suggest that soda taxes may confer health risks, with a quote from TOS' Vice-president Lee Kaplan,
"I believe that we have a primary responsibility to carefully dissect what we know about the effects of taxing SSBs on obesity from its other potential health benefits and risks, and to promote additional research where necessary to clarify areas of debate and identify new opportunities for progress.
It's a bizarre press release.

It is either ignorant, or purposefully disingenuous, of Heymsfield and TOS to frame soda taxes as if they hinge on obesity and put forward the straw man that a singular intervention is unlikely to have a remarkable impact on global weights. Complex problems tend not to have simple, singular solutions - it's the, "but that single sandbag won't stop the flood" argument, and truly, it's breathtakingly dense, especially in that reducing the excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is desirable for people at any weight and is the explicit aim of the tax with a secondary aim of raising funds to support other public health initiatives.

Regarding potential health risks of soda taxes and the need for more research before considering, the data is quite clear (which is why the soda industry is fighting so vigorously against them), sugar-sweetened beverage taxes decrease sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and increase healthier beverage consumption while providing the greatest potential health benefits to low income consumers.

It's also worth noting that TOS' suggestion that we need to wait for more data before acting runs counter to the recommendations of:
  • The World Health Organization
  • The American Heart Association
  • The American Medical Association
  • The Canadian Medical Association
  • The Australian Medical Association
  • The American Cancer Society
  • The American Public Health Association
  • The Cancer Action Network
  • The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors
  • The National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • The National Association of Local Boards of Health
  • The Heart and Stroke Foundation
  • Diabetes Canada
and many, many, more.

How TOS and its executives serving the soda industry as merchants of doubts versus a truly global initiative to reduce the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages helps push TOS' mission,
"to promote innovative research, effective and accessible care, and public health initiatives that will reduce the personal and societal burden of obesity"
is lost on me.

As to why TOS is taking a stance so directly in line of the one being pushed hard by the sugar-sweetened beverage industry itself is anybody's guess, though it's worth pointing out that TOS has had a very close relationship with the food industry, including Coca-Cola who used to fund their travel grants, and PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper to who TOS' food industry outreach committee reached out directly following its inception (leading me to publicly resign my membership in TOS) at roughly the same time they released their new "Guidelines for Accepting Funds from External Sources" position paper (removed from TOS' website but still available here) refuses to allow even the consideration of funding as a source of bias and,
"expressly eliminates all forms of evaluation or judgment of the funding source"
Suffice to say, I have yet to regret my decision to resign my membership in The Obesity Society, and I can't help but wonder whether this press release and stance will be the last straw for others.