Opinion: Working Together To Accomplish Real Results

By Susan K. Neely
6/27/14 4:31 PM EDT

As many of your readers know, America’s leading beverage companies are all about action. And our actions speak loudly. Our member companies are providing real help for people by delivering more low-calorie and smaller-portion beverages, clear calorie labels and more.

Unfortunately, recent comments from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the New York City Health Department and others oversimplify the complex set of factors behind obesity and diabetes and attempt to blame soft drinks for these issues.

Selectively picking out common grocery items like soft drinks as the cause — or even the driver — of obesity is misleading. The public does not believe that solutions to obesity are as simplistic as a ban on the size of just one item– nor should they, as neither the body of science or the facts support the activists’ claims.

What the public and America’s beverage industry do believe is that obesity is a serious issue, caused by multiple factors. The solution to this public health challenge is one that takes all of us — health professionals, elected officials, industry, parents, community leaders — working together. That’s why we have sought out and partnered with visionary leaders and organizations that bring diverse stakeholders together to advance comprehensive programs. After all, we get further faster when we work together, as evidenced by such collective efforts.

Working with the first lady and the Partnership for a Healthier America, President Bill Clinton and his Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others, we have voluntarily removed full-calorie soft drinks from schools nationwide, placed calorie labels on all of our packaging as well as on vending machines, supported community programs that promote balanced diets and physical activity and much more.

Through ongoing innovation, our member companies provide beverage choices in a range of portion sizes and offer low- and no-calorie options for virtually every brand they make. In fact, 45 percent of all nonalcoholic beverages sold in the U.S. today contain zero calories.

Here’s the big picture: All sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, juice drinks, teas, sports drinks, etc.) account for just 6 percent of the average American’s diet. That means 94 percent of the calories that people consume come from other foods and beverages. Regular soda sales are down double-digits since 1999 as Americans are choosing more low- and no-calorie options. On top of that, added sugars from soda are down 39 percent since 2000, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. At the same time, obesity rates and incidences of diabetes continued to rise. The numbers just don’t add up to support the claim that soft drinks are a unique driver of obesity and diabetes.

Focusing only on regular soft drinks doesn’t make sense, especially since sales in this category have been declining for nearly 15 years as consumers move to lower-calorie options.

It’s time to give up the soft drink vendetta. If we want to get serious about obesity and other complex health issues, it starts with education and collaboration — not laws, restrictions and regulation.

Susan Neely is president and chief executive officer of the American Beverage Association. The association is the leading policy and public education advocate for the non-alcoholic beverage industry.

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