North Americans consume an average of 50 gallons of soda per year, making them the largest consumers of sugared drinks in the world. The Centers for Disease Control says that two-thirds of the added sugar consumed in the U.S. comes from processed foods (breakfast cereals, candy bars, cakes, breads, ice cream and so forth), while fully one-third comes from sugared drinks.

An eye-opening new report shows that between 2011 and 2015, Coca-Cola gave more than $6 million a year and PepsiCo gave more than $3 million a year to 96 national health organizations (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 3, 2016). At the same time, they gave more than $1 million a year to the American Beverage Association, their industry lobbying group, to influence legislation to favor the soda industry and against the interests of public health — on 28 federal, state and local initiatives aimed at reducing soda consumption.

This is the first comprehensive study of how the soda industry uses money to silence critics and gain allies among researchers and public health educators. The organizations that accepted funding from the soft drink companies include government-controlled agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Diabetes Association, the American Red Cross and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation accepted money from the sugar industry, even though all diabetics should avoid sugared drinks as they cause among the highest rises in blood sugar levels. Recently the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics have stopped accepting funds from the sugar industry.

Money Talks
A few weeks ago I wrote about how Big Sugar influenced Harvard researchers to report incorrectly that sugar is not a major cause of heart attacks (N Engl J Med, 1967 Jul 27;277(4):186-92; JAMA Internal Medicine, September 12, 2016). Their papers caused the medical profession to blame fat as the leading cause of heart disease and to exonerate sugar, which may have contributed to millions of deaths. Now, 50 years later, the sugar industry is still pressuring researchers and legislators by:

* Claiming that lack of exercise, and not dietary sugar, has caused the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Coca-Cola donated $1.5 million to help start the Global Energy Balance Network and given $4 million to two of the founders to shift blame for the epidemic onto lack of exercise.

* Lobbying to oppose legislation against sugared beverages. From 2011 to 2015, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo opposed 28 bills for taxes on sodas, regulation of supplemental nutrition assistance and limits on soda sizes.

* Trying to influence the Save the Children Federation to stop lobbying for a tax on sodas with donations of more than $5 million.

* Giving money to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which then stopped supporting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to limit soda portions.

OF COURSE the sugar industry will lobby to keep their products on the market and to increase sales. That is to be expected. What is NOT to be expected is for doctors and health professionals, sometimes in the government, to disregard the public’s interest in favor of their own. Every physician has the moral duty to tell patients that their lifestyles may be more important in treating some disease than any drug that they can prescribe.

Why Sugared Drinks Cause the Highest Rises in Blood Sugar Levels
No solid food is allowed to pass from your stomach into your intestines, but sugar in liquid form can pass directly through so the sugar can be absorbed almost immediately. This means that liquid sugars can cause very high rises in blood sugars. A high rise in blood sugar can cause sugar to stick to the outer membranes of all types of cells throughout your body. Once stuck on a cell membrane, the sugar can never get off. It is converted by a series of chemical reactions eventually to sorbitol that destroys the cell. This cell destruction is the cause of the horrible consequences of diabetes: blindness, deafness, heart attacks, strokes, cancers, impotence, loss of feeling in your feet, osteoporosis, dementia and much more.

Epidemiological studies show that fruit is healthful and sugared drinks are not, even though they both contain lots of sugar. We do not know why there is such a difference. It may be because of all the extra antioxidants and other nutrients that are in fruit and not in isolated sugar that has been added to drinks and foods.

My Recommendations
Know that the sugar industry is protecting its own interests, just as Big Tobacco did. Liquid sugar intake is associated with increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, certain cancers and premature death. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that you should eat and drink no more than 50 grams of sugar each day, more than the amount in a 20-ounce bottle of Coke.
* 50 grams of sugar a day is just fine if the sugar is IN fruit.
* Once fruit is squeezed and processed into fruit juice, it is just as unhealthful as soda.
* Any sugared drink (soda, fruit juice, sweetened tea, sports drink) is an excellent source of the sugar you need during prolonged vigorous exercise.
* If you are not exercising, quench your thirst with water. Unsweetened tea or coffee are other acceptable beverages, but NO ONE needs sweetened drinks when they are not exercising.
* Every time you avoid buying sodas or any other beverage bottled by these giant companies, pat yourself on the back for sending a message to an industry that cares nothing about your health.