The anti-obesity advocacy group, CSPI, has made a formal request to the US government to set specific and safe levels of added sugars to soda and other drinks. CSPI has actually been vocal about a variety of products that contribute to obesity since the 1970s, and back then, sugary drinks were already on their obesity radar.
Who is CSPI?
The website of the Center for Science in the Public Interest describes CSPI as a consumer advocacy group whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being. The sectors they look at include food, alcohol, health, the environment and other issues that relate to science and technology. They want to provide consumers with the ability to make the best nutrition and health decisions based on current, science-based, objective information. They also want to make sure that public policy works to ensure that consumers can do just that.
What are some of the accomplishments of CSPI?
Check out the list and you’ll see that it’s quite extensive, but some highlights include:
- Reducing the levels of dangerous nitrites in foods like bacon, cured meats (1973)
- New FDA rule on sodium labeling (1982)
- Health warning label on all alcoholic drinks (1988)
- Specific definition of the term “organic” on food labels (1990)
- Mandatory nutrition labeling on all ground meat, poultry (2001)
- Threat to sue soft-drink manufacturers resulted in removing these beverages from schools (2006)
- Translating Coca Cola’s new obesity ad campaign, Coming Together so that consumers could understand certain claims, comments and information objectively (2013)
And over the years, a number of safety reforms in food manufacturing, handling and storage were a result of the strong position of CSPI and its relentless pursuit of changes that would result in the reduction of food contamination and food poisoning.
Why is CSPI's actions so important to the average HealthCentral visitor?
First of all, they are one of the most influential advocacy groups currently fighting the obesity battle on behalf of kids and teens. They have effectively protested food advertisements directed at kids, especially when they involve junk food, a category that includes sugary beverages, fast food, snack foods and highly processed foods. Children are extremely vulnerable to the messages in these food ads, and parents are quite frankly fighting an uphill battle against the food industry’s efforts to lure kids to demand cheap food with poor nutrition profiles. Adults are also susceptible to the prices, taste and tempting nature of these foods. So even if you don’t have kids, your own waistline is certainly expanding thanks to the proliferation of junk foods and drinks.
Just how much sugar are we consuming daily?
A typical 20 ounce soda has about 16 teaspoons of sugar, mostly high fructose corn syrup derived. Americans on average consume 18 – 23 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That alone can add an extra 300-400 calories to the daily diet of the average consumer, and none of those calories are nutritionally beneficial or for that matter, healthy. And when we drink those sugary calories, they do not supply the kind of satiation that eating whole foods provides. So we don't even factor those calories consciously. These beverages also cause significant blood sugar elevations, which typically result in sharp blood sugar plummets a few hours later. In 1998, Americans were consuming 54 gallons of soda and sweet drinks. The most recent statistic suggests yearly consumption of 44.6 gallons of soft drinks. So we have reduced our sweet drink habit, but not enough. And our kids are still consuming way too much soda, juice and other sweetened drinks.
What do the current CSPI actions mean?
Similar to the victory scored years ago when CSPI demanded that trans fats be clearly labeled on all processed food products and as a corollary, be controlled and limited by reducing their use in food manufacturing, CSPI hopes to curb American’s consumption of sugar specifically in beverages by asking the government to agree to set specific upper limits on the amount per serving in soda and beverages.
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily #HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.