Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) by Marion Nestle – My Lessons and Takeaways


soda-politicsI don’t drink coffee.

I start there, because it helps explain why I drink soda.

Here’s a brief history of my soda drinking life:

Dr Pepper when younger.
Shift to misc. diet drinks as I could no longer afford the calories of the real stuff.
For the last few years, I’ve gone with Dr Pepper Ten (10 calories a serving).
Now it’s a mix of Diet Dr Pepper Cherry or Cherry Coke Zero.

But, what I’ve never done is practice much moderation. Big glasses; countless two-liter bottles.

And, yes, my weight (and blood sugar) has been something of a challenge through the years… up, and down, quite a few times. (currently, it’s down).

I thought of all this as I read Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) by Dr. Marion Nestle. I am presenting my synopsis of this book today at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare.

I put this on my handout:screenshot_37

  • Let’s blame 7-Eleven
  • 1968 – Big Gulp, 32 ounces
  • 1986 – Super Big Gulp, 44 ounces
  • 1989 – Double Gulp – 64 ounces

Here’s how I “summarized” the book:

Big soda is in business to make big money – as are all businesses and industries. And as we have discovered and confirmed that big soda contributes to big health problems, big soda has placed all the responsibility on the individual. It is time for public policy help in this pursuit of better health. In other words: “politics.”

And, I begin my handouts with “Why is this book worth our time”:

#1 – We have a serious public health problem: the rise of obesity, the rise of type 2 Diabetes. Soda is a major contributor. This book helps us see this clearly.
#2 – We need to better understand the enormous power of “lobbying” and “public relations,” and “front groups,” and “Corporate Responsibility” efforts in “hiding” the truth of major problems. In the arena of soda politics, and in many other arenas. This book helps us understand this.
#3 – We have a true, genuine problem to ponder: what do we do when many, many jobs are connected to something that is genuinely harmful for us? This book at least raises this issue.

I included these observations:

  • about the health issues:
  • too much sugar is harmful to your health
  • too much sugar is harmful to your teeth
  • drinking your sugar is worse for your health
  • Sugar as High Fructose Corn Syrup is even worse for your health
  • and, about the “politics” of it all…
  • and “too many regulations” is harmful for the fiscal health of the industry…
  • the companies (with plenty of the people in all the “connected” industries) will vigorously fight all attempts at regulations or restrictions
  • the companies (with plenty of the people in all the “connected” industries) will rigorously engage in “good PR” of all kinds

{• and, one piece of good news – the book comes close to giving the ok sign to diet drinks}.

 And here are my lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Moderation is tough – especially tough “on your own,” using your own “willpower.”
#2 – Thus, we need the help of public policy to help us lead healthier lives.
#3 – And, by the way, there is a great cost to unhealthy lives, for individuals, and for all of society as a whole.
#4 – The soda industry will not do anything on its own to restrict profits. The industry will vigorously resist all attempts to restrict profits.
#5 – And, the approaches and efforts of the soda industry reveal lessons about all industries that will fight to maintain market share and profits, regardless of any potential harm they may cause.
#6 – Get more involved in advocacy!

Do I recommend this book? Yes. Not just to remind us that many of us adopt habits that can be harmful, but also as a tutorial about how big industry works so very hard t0 maintain their market share and profits, even when their products might not be all that good for us over the long haul.

This book is about soda, but really is quite a playbook for all advocacy efforts

maybe slightly dramatized...
maybe slightly dramatized…

I’ll stop here… I need to go refill my Super Big Gulp size Ozark Trail tumbler with Diet Dr Pepper Cherry…

2 thoughts on “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) by Marion Nestle – My Lessons and Takeaways

  1. While soft drinks have become a target of critics such as Ms. Nestle, it’s important to keep this single source of calories in perspective. Soda can be enjoyed in moderation, and today there are an unprecedented array of options, including low- and no-calorie beverages and smaller portion sizes. That said, our industry is proactively engaging in meaningful efforts such as the Balance Calories Initiative, which aims to cut beverage calorie intake in the U.S. by 20 percent by 2025. We’re doing our part to encourage people to strike a better balance between what they eat, drink and do. We contend that real health behavior change comes from education and collaboration, rather than restrictive approaches and regulation.

  2. But, though I am glad you pursue approaches such as the “Balance Calories Initiative,” the evidence seems to be overwhelming that “education and collaboration” have not slowed the march toward greater health problems connected to obesity. I wonder, what does independent data actually show about the effectiveness of such voluntary initiatives? According to the book, true independent studies (not paid for by industry front groups) are not all that encouraging…

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