Don’t tell me sugar isn’t addictive. I’ve been quitting it all my adult life
The latest image problem for the soft drinks industry may be the most damaging yet
Warren Buffet once said that, if he was given $1 billion and asked to beat Coca-Cola, he would hand back the money, because it simply couldn’t be done. This week, it seemed he might have had a point.
I was in New York in the days beforehand, and it was impossible to miss preparations for the ban on so-called Big Gulps – bucket-sized portions of fizzy drinks. On every cab’s entertainment system, news bulletins reminded people to drink up while they still could; newspapers pondered the prospect of “soda speakeasies”.
This was big news in a country where people typically get 200 of their daily calories from fizzy drinks – six times the number they consumed in 1965, says the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition .
But it’s not entirely true to say no one had anticipated the ruling. Together with the National Association of Theatre Owners and the National Restaurant Association, the soft-drinks industry had mounted a robust legal attack on the plans.
Not so soft
Coca-Cola has a history of successfully rising above challenges to its brands – this started 110 years ago with the first significant health scare about Coca-Cola. The drink, which had been developed by chemist John Pemberton, had quickly gained popularity with, as Pemberton put it, “scientists, scholars, poets, divines, lawyers, physicians, and others devoted to extreme mental exertion” – actually, just about everyone.
Small wonder: a 1903 report in the New York Tribune revealed that Pemberton’s wonder drink contained actual cocaine – nine-milligrams of it in every seven-ounce glass.
Coca-Cola promptly stopped using fresh coca leaves in its product, substituting them with coca leaves that had the cocaine content extracted. And Americans went on happily gulping Coca-Cola, soon to be joined by the rest of the world.
But the current image problem of such beverages – 680 or so in all – may prove the most damaging yet.
In September 2011, the UN declared that, for the first time, chronic non-infectious diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes posed a greater risk to human health than infectious diseases. The number of obese people in the world is 30 per cent greater than the number who are undernourished.
But obesity itself may be a symptom rather than a cause of these illnesses – one in five obese people can expect a normal lifespan, while up to 40 per cent of people with normal weight share some of the health problems of the obese.
Some scientific evidence blames these health problems not on fat but on sugar.