FDA gains power to regulate Big Tobacco

In front page news today is a story about a landmark victory over the tobacco industry. The article “Senate grants FDA power to regulate Big Tobacco”, published by the Honolulu Advertiser, tells of how the federal government will likely soon have the power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes, and will gain the power to stop the addition of things like “cherry” flavoring to cigarettes, and the use of marketing targeted towards young people, such as the infamous Joe Camel. Quoting from the article:

WASHINGTON — Capping a half-century battle with the tobacco industry, the Senate overwhelmingly approved landmark legislation yesterday that would for the first time give the government far-reaching power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The legislation, which was approved by the Senate 79-17 and is expected to pass the House today, would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate ingredients in tobacco products and ban the marketing of "light" cigarettes.

In a bid to deter new smokers, the bill also imposes strict limits on full-color advertising for cigarettes, bans billboards close to schools and requires packages to carry larger warning labels.

"Joe Camel has been sentenced and put away forever," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., referring to a youth-oriented cartoon figure long used to promote Camel cigarettes.

The Obama administration and congress are seeking ways to extend health care coverage and to reduce the massive health care costs in the US that accounts for almost 10% of GDP, way more than in any other industrialized country. Controlling and reducing the smoking of tobacco products is one way to reduce health care costs and help people avoid crippling and unnecessary diseases and the consequent debilitating personal, family, and societal costs.

Actually, much of these huge health "care" costs are for the treatment of unnecessary and preventable diseases caused by the consumption of unhealthy meat based diets, the use of products such as tobacco and alcohol, and the living of unhealthy lifestyles.

At Down to Earth we promote the living of a healthy "down to earth" lifestyle consisting of a healthy vegetarian diet comprised of natural and organic foods, regular exercise, the drinking of clean water, breathing fresh clean air, and the avoidance of intoxicants. Please visit our stores and our website www.downtoearth.org for further information on how to adopt a healthier vegetarian diet.

Meat Linked to Increased Bladder Cancer Risk

In a recently concluded 12-year study, scientists found that people who eat meat regularly, especially meat that is well done or cooked at high temperatures, may have a higher chance of developing bladder cancer.

Surprised? I didn’t think so. The study, undertaken by scientists at the University of Texas, joins previous research linking meat with bowel, pancreatic and colon cancer. So while I’m glad these studies are making headlines and getting coverage, it’s worth pointing out that this “news” is not exactly new.

Many people I know, who profess to be concerned with their health and the health of the planet, are so jaded by the constant discovery of new carcinogens that they shrug them off, saying, “yeah well, these days what doesn’t cause cancer?”

I understand how overwhelming it can be to feel surrounded by toxins in our environment. We take comfort in food, and we want to imagine that our dinner, at least, won’t kill us. However, if we look around at the rising rates of morbid obesity, heart disease and cancer, we can see that our dinner, if it includes meat, is killing us. We can hide behind the fatalistic argument that we’re all going to die anyway, or we can make the basic changes to our diet that will alleviate the risk of cancer, and improve our quality of life.

The distinctions are not that difficult to make. Study after study confirms that meat is not good for our health. To date, I have yet to find a study saying sweet potatoes are not good for our health. Ditto on taro, papayas, bananas, pineapple, kale, collard greens, bell peppers, tomatoes or cucumbers - and that’s just what’s growing in my garden right now. Switching to a plant-based diet is the single most important thing a person can do for their health. You don’t have to be fatalistic or jaded about the risk of cancer. Just plant a seed.

The most recent study found that people who consumed the most red meat were 48% more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who consumed the least. The report further studied the effects of high temperatures on meat. They found that “medium” meat was linked to a 46% increased risk of cancer while “well done” meat was lined to a 94% increase in risk, compared to meat that was “rare.”

I found it odd that the study only compared people who ate lots of meat to people who ate less meat. What about people who ate no meat? It might be useful, for example, to know that a heavy smoker cuts eight years off his life expectancy compared to a light smoker, but wouldn’t it be more useful to know the life expectancy of someone who never smoked at all?

This particular study didn’t include any data from vegetarians, but there are plenty of other examples from previous studies. One 11 year long study from Germany found that people who eat no meat are less than half as likely as the mainstream population to develop any kind of cancer.

In the University of Texas study, the scientists looked at the way meat was cooked, and concluded that chemical reactions between amino acids (the building blocks of protein and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react under high temperatures to form heterocyclic amines (HCA’s), which are carcinogenic. The authorities stopped short of recommending a vegetarian diet, however, issuing the following statement instead:

“The UK Food Standards Agency says people can reduce their risk from chemicals that may cause cancer by…cooking at lower temperatures for a longer time, but warns that undercooked meat can cause food poisoning.”

So, cooked meat gives you cancer and uncooked meat gives you food poisoning?

Pass the sweet potatoes, please.

Vegetarian Diet Can Reduce Chemicals in Your Body

A recent study suggests that even five days of vegetarian eating significantly reduces potentially harmful chemicals in the body. Yet another benefit of a plant-based diet!

In “Influence of a five-day vegetarian diet on urinary levels of antbiotics and phthalate metabolites: A pilot study with ‘Temple Stay’ participants”[1] in the May 2010 issue of Environmental Research [2], twenty-five adults stayed for five days in a Buddhist temple in Korea, living as the monks did, following a vegetarian diet. Before beginning, urine samples taken showed high levels of antibiotics and phthalates.

As reported in care2.com, presumably the antibiotic levels were due mainly to meat consumption. Phthalates can also be absorbed through meat consumption, however, they are also found in abundant supply in the manmade environment, mainly found in plastics, like food containers, shower curtains, floor tiles, personal care products, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and many other applications. (Research about the potential health effects of phthalates on humans is ongoing.)

The researchers found antibiotic and phthalate urinary levels dropped very much after the study participants completed their vegetarian retreat. One, because they were no longer consuming foods high in those chemicals, but also because the body apparently can release some of its ingested, accumulated chemical residues.

The results may come as little surprise for people already mindful of exposure to industrial chemicals through food and interacting with plastic products.

The study provides some hope in the fact the body can release unnatural chemicals to some degree, and also indicates a vegetarian diet limits exposure to potentially damaging chemicals from our environment. We already know that following a plant-based diet reduces ones risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, prostate and colon cancer. Now it appears it can help us detoxify too, providing us a weapon against the daily environmental onslaught of modern life.

So eat your veggies!! (Preferably organic!)

  1. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/vegetarian-diet-can-reduce-chemicals-in...
  2. Environmental Research: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Environmental Sciences, Ecology, and Public Health publishes original reports describing studies of the toxic effects of environmental agents on humans and animals. The principal aims of the journal are to define the etiology of environmentally induced illness and to increase understanding of the mechanisms by which environmental agents cause disease. http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/622821/desc...

Telling my parents what to do... Finally!

Fruits and Vegetables in the Shape of a Heart

by Cynthia Cruz

Reflecting on American Heart Month this February, the first thing that came to mind was my parents. They take pretty good care of themselves, but they could definitely do better. (Actually so could I!) We've talked in the past about what they could do food-wise to help prevent anything medically serious from happening. As much as they love me, I can see why it's difficult to heed their bossy daughter. I'm the one who gets told what to do, not the other way around. They've been relatively healthy all their lives without any serious hiccups so why should they listen to me? I used to send them dozens and dozens of links and recipes to see if just one more article could change their minds. As many people can probably attest to, there's only so far you can push others toward doing something that they're not familiar with or even mildly interested in. 

The last couple of years though, more and more family members or friends have unfortunately had to deal with a serious heart condition. The situation has increasingly become the norm rather than the exception. My parents started sending me texts here and there to ask me what the heck healthy fats are, and is avocado toast really a meal? Catching a whiff of interest in eating better for their health caused me to send an avalanche of health articles including this excellent one. As expected, they were a little put off by my... let's just call it "over enthusiasm" and gently told me to back off. Sensing a different approach was needed, especially when my mom told me I was overwhelming her with information, I started to ask them what they were interested in and slowly began to just talk with them, rather than talking at them. Then one day, they started sending me articles! Not to mention correcting me on a few facts -- it pays to read, not just skim apparently. Nowadays, we talk about doing some heart-health eating challenges together (still hasn't happen but I'm pretty sure it's going to happen soon), what kind of new nut mix they're snacking on, and more. 

Now that February is here, instead of me nagging my parents about this heart health situation, they are sharing the things they've learned with their friends, co-workers, and the rest of our family. Of course they don't give me my much-deserved credit for pushing them towards a healthier lifestyle! The injustice, I tell you. Now, when I tell them they should try to eat more spinach or try more smoothies, they finally listen to me! It might have taken a long time (years!) to get them more actively invested in their health but it was worth being a pain in their butts. Now if only I could get them to give me an allowance again. I know, I know, one life-changing problem at a time. 

Can sunscreen cause cancer?

I belong to a group. You may too. I belong to the group of more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in this country every year. I'm sure it didn't help that, growing up, I spent five hours a day baking in baby oil on a raft in our family's pool most summers. But what about the SPF 4 (!) my mom insisted I wear? I remember a strong-smelling clear liquidy product that sealed into a plastizoid layer on my face. Could that have actually contributed to me losing part of my nose, in addition to the hours I spent baking in the sun?

I just reviewed The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Fourth annual Sunscreen Guide" to look for some answers. My friends often debate whether to apply sunscreen to avoid cancer or to forgo sunscreen to avoid cancer. So what did the EWG find? I want to be armed with facts for the next beachside chat.

Interestingly, they only recommend 8% of sunscreen products on the market today, a mere 39 products out of  1,400 products with SPF, including beach and sports lotions, sprays and creams, moisturizers, make-up and lip balms. The main reasons are that popular chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone have been linked to cancer, and a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate - found in 41 percent of sunscreens to prevent free radical damage - has recently been shown to actually create more cancer-causing free radicals in the presence of sunlight. In addition, the EWG says that many of these sunscreens make exaggerated SPF claims. FDA scientists say SPF claims above 50 cannot be reliably substantiated.

The EWG report found that few people use enough sunscreen to benefit from the SPF protection promised on the label. Studies show that people typically use about a quarter of the recommended amount (which for an adult is about one ounce). Because sunscreen effectiveness drops off precipitously when under-applied, in everyday practice a product labeled SPF 100 actually performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and SPF 15 translates to 2! No wonder my kid comes home red after spending hours on the beach, even though sunscreen has been dutifully applied.

The best sunscreen? A hat and long-sleeved shirt. No toxic effects, no chance of inhaling or ingesting any suspect ingredients, no pollution of the reef and no need to reapply. And seek shade during the peak midday hours. Common sense. We've come to rely on sunscreen, but studies show that folks who use it stay out in the sun longer and have higher rates of the deadly melanoma skin cancer. Sunscreen can provide a false sense of security, especially in Hawaii's summertime heat.

Reportedly taking their research further than Consumer Reports, the EWG looked not only at whether or not products provide broad-spectrum UV protection (UVA & UVB), but also at which sunscreens quickly lose effectiveness, and at the full range of potentially hazardous sunscreen ingredients that can absorb through the skin and into the body to pose other risks.

This may be old news to some of our savvy readers, but I was pleased to have some clear information. For example, if the sunscreen leaves a white residue, that's good. That means the zinc and titanium dioxide mineral particles which block sunlight are larger than a nanoparticle. These ingredients have been micronized in some products, so that they aren't visible when applied to your skin. Many consumers may prefer that their sunscreen be invisible, but the danger is that nanoparticles can more easily penetrate into the body and disrupt certain hormonal functions.

What's a nano particle you may ask? I first reported on them in food here last March: http://www.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-03/health/more-unknown-ingredients....

Nano-scale particles are measured in nanometers (nm), or billionths of a meter. Relative to larger particles, nano-scale materials can be more chemically reactive and more easily absorbed into the body. A number of studies raise concerns about potential health risks when these particles are inhaled or are absorbed through the skin or gut. Nevertheless, they are already widely used in products, including sunscreens, with no requirement that their presence be disclosed.

The EWG wants mandatory labeling of products containing nano particles so the consumer can choose. They investigate them extensively in their Report on Sunscreens.

Particular sunscreen ingredients or formulations may be more damaging to skin than others. Both nano-size zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, including forms extracted from sunscreen, react strongly with UV light (Dunford 1997) and may damage skin cells (Sharma 2009).

Yet they found that sunscreens without any size zinc and titanium particles are likely to expose the user to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients. So it appears the larger size zinc and titanium particles that leave a white residue on the skin may be the best way to go at present. Without the whites, sunscreens use chemicals such as octinoxate and oxybenzone that absorb into healthy skin, causing in some allergic reactions, hormone-driven uterine damage, and can act like estrogen in the body, raising potential concerns for breast cancer. Yikes. I've already been diagnosed as having higher than ideal estrogen levels.

Their findings

"Sunscreens without zinc or titanium contain an average of 4 times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more) (EWG 2006)."

So I took my basket of assorted sunscreen goop out of the closet and the fridge, and scanned the ingredients. Luckily only two contained the suspect ingredients octnoxate and oxybenzone, and made their way into the waste basket. The newest ones in my arsenal against skin cancer I bought at Down to Earth. The Super Salve Co. creates a SPF 30 sun cream in a tub, and a SPF 27 herbal sun stick to go on nose, ears, lips, etc. They contain a soothing-sounding blend of olive oil, aloe, shea butter, jojoba oil and zinc, along with bees wax, vitamin E and other natural ingredients. I keep them in the fridge at home, and when I go out I bring them in a cooler to maintain their effective properties. Heat breaks them down. They go on smoothly and have proven their effectiveness to me, even in the water. While not included in the EWG's study, I found them to contain no potentially dangerous chemicals, utilizing zinc oxide along with many herbal ingredients including lovely smelling essential oils.

My SPF daily moisturizers didn't fare as well. I chucked two along with a lip balm, and kept one the EWG advises to use with "Caution".

The FDA first issued draft sunscreen regulations in 1978 and last updated the draft in 2007. The regulations are still not final, despite multiple announcements of impending completion. Until the agency formally issues its rule, companies are not required to verify that their sunscreens work, including testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims or providing UVA protection. Nearly 1 in 8 sunscreens does not block UVA rays. UVA rays, while not causing skin redness, lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Buyer beware!

Go to the EWG site to find your sunscreen and how it rates in safety. It's fun and easy. There's even a Hall of Shame. Find those without nano-particles if you wish. Like genetically modified organisms, the jury is still out in America about their safety. And like GMOs in America, they're approved for use until proven dangerous. Sounds a little backward to me….do you want to be the FDA's guinea pig? Well, unfortunately you are.

Read FAQs such as:

  • There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
  • The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.
  • When consumers apply too little sunscreen or reapply it infrequently, behaviors that are more common than not, sunscreens can cause more free radical damage than UV rays on bare skin.
  • Powdered or spray forms of sunscreen, while easy to apply, are not recommended as potentially toxic ingredients can be ingested or inhaled.
  • And not surprisingly, read how Europe has better sunscreen than the U.S.

Now don't avoid the sun altogether! We need about 15 minutes of solid sun daily, on average, to develop Vitamin D. Supplements aren't enough. Just be smart. Be informed and spread your knowledge! And when you have to be out for prolonged periods and are in doubt, white sunscreen currently looks like your best option if the hat and shirt aren't practical.

  1. Dunford R, Salinaro A, Cai L, Serpone N, Horikoshi S, Hidaka H, et al. 1997. Chemical oxidation and DNA damage catalysed by inorganic sunscreen ingredients. FEBS Lett 418(1-2): 87-90. Sharma V, Shukla RK, Saxena N, Parmar D, Das M, Dhawan A. 2009.
  2. DNA damaging potential of zinc oxide nanoparticles in human epidermal cells. Toxicol Lett 185(3): 211-218. EWG (Environmental Working Group). 2006.
  3. A Survey of Ingredients in 25,000 Personal Care Products Reveals Widespread Use of Nano-Scale Materials, Not Assessed for Safety, in Everyday Products. Comments to U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Environmental Working Group. Available at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2007/08/25/hundreds-of-personal-care-product....

Pregnancy diabetes on the rise from sugary cokes

Sodas are a part of modern life. But like all sugar-heavy foods, moderation is the key. This is especially true for women planning a family. A new study finds that women who drink more than 5 servings per week of sugary cokes pre-conception raise their risk for developing diabetes during pregnancy (http://www.beveragedaily.com/Industry-Markets/Regular-cola-drinking-link...). Glucose (or sugar) intolerance in women is one of the most common complications in pregnancy and increases the chances of lifelong diabetes in women. It can also cause permanent effects on the unborn child. Babies born to gestationally diabetic women have higher birth weight and higher rates of obesity and diabetes early in life.

Rather strangely only cola, and not other sugary drinks or artificially sweetened drinks are associated with the increased risk. Could this be the combination of caffeine and sugar during pregnancy is too much for the woman’s system?

Sugar-sweetened drinks are a major cause of obesity. Many people drink sodas instead of water. In fact, sugar-sweetened beverages are the leading source of added sugar in the U.S. diet. Soft drink intake more than doubled between 1977 and 2001 among 19-39 year-olds in America, from 4.1% to 9.8%, and this age group also has the highest rate of soft drink consumption!

Water is the best beverage and what our body craves. People substitute colas for water and actually dehydrate their body as the caffeine found in cola is a diuretic. Adopting a healthy and varied vegetarian diet relaxes the palate, thereby reducing the craving for so many sugary drinks. Eating whole grains gives sustained energy reducing the craving for caffeine.

As people reduce their sugary cola intake, this naturally will reduce gestational diabetes, obesity, and our national health care costs, thereby making health care more affordable for all.

Think how much change you can effect by choosing water over coke!

Thanks for reading.

Exercise along with a healthy diet for improved quality of life.

Recent news that many children use personal trainers at gyms to fight obesity, secure athletic scholarships and gain confidence caused some to chuckle and others to be aghast.

Fact is, one in three kids in America is currently overweight. Some parents are taking their kids along with them for their workouts, hoping to instill lifelong habits. I think this is great, if you can afford it. Anything to get kids moving is good, and mom or dad exercising along with them models good behavior. Even better, in my book, is to get the kids outdoors, out of the gym.

In Hawaii we have so many opportunities for movement, it should be easy to motivate a sedentary child. The key is attitude. Get them excited about the exercise! In Hawaii we can walk, run, bike, swim practice martial arts, dance, or  yoga, surf, body board, snorkel, hike, play soccer, baseball, football, basketball, go skateboarding – the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Try a few until you find one or more your child enjoys.

If rain bother you, you can also lift weights, use home exercise equipment, join that gym, or do home exercise DVDs. The point is to factor movement into your life. While a healthy diet is key for a healthy life, exercise may be even as important to feeling and looking your best. It improves attitude, energy levels and is just plain fun.

If you need help getting started, there's lots available.

Out in Waianae the Kid Fit program has gained 100 new kids every year since 2004. According to Christy Inda, Director of Preventive Health for the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, "we're getting the word out to promote physical activity."  Former couch potatoes are working out and losing weight.

The beautiful Wai Lana Little Yogis DVDs, which were filmed in Hawaii, are another local effort to help kids. Wai Lana makes it easy for you and your little one to exercise at home, after school, weekends, whenever!

If you're interested in more materials to help you help your child to move, Len Saunders has popular books, including his newest, Keeping Kids Fit & Adventure in Exercise. These books reportedly get kids excited about exercise.

Looking for an energy boost to motivate your workout? Why not try the green drink that Mimi Kirk, the Sexiest Vegetarian over 50, drinks daily. Just put a cucumber, spinach, celery and an apple into your juicer or blender, maybe add a banana, and drink up for a live and raw boost. Just try it; you may be pleasantly surprised. Sure beats a doughnut.

See ya out there - moving!

Rising obesity is both costly and deadly

A recent study predicts that the effects of increasing obesity in the US are forecast to outweigh any benefits from continued reductions in smoking rates over the next decade.

The major cause of the obesity epidemic is not hard to identity, it is the eating of a poor diet - based on the eating and drinking of sugar-laden, highly processed, and usually artificially-flavored and colored, junk foods. Another significant factor contributing to rising obesity levels is the lack of exercise and the sedentary lifestyle practiced by many. School physical activities are being slashed due to lack of funding, and at home children often spend their free time on the computer playing games or watching movies and don’t develop the exercise habit in their formative years. As a result they will likely end up becoming sedentary adults. Often these two factors go together, i.e., children and adults sit in front of the TV or computer while consuming copious quantities of unhealthy foods; and we wonder why there is an obesity epidemic? It is not rocket science, poor diet and lack of exercise are the two main causes of obesity, and the solution is is to be found in better diets and regular exercise.

The obesity epidemic needs to be addressed by major education efforts, the making available of healthier choices in all food stores (not just natural foods stores), school cafeterias, vending machines, etc. Great tasting healthy foods exist; they simply need to be made more readily available and promoted. Gradually people’s palates will adjust to a less sugary, salty and processed food taste.

The current medical cost of treating obesity related disease is estimated at 10% of total annual medical spending, or $147 billion. Incorporating more school exercise, providing healthier food choices, and increased education efforts about nutrition and physical activity will help significantly cut the cost of treating obesity. The money saved on treating obesity related disease could be used to help provide medical insurance for all.

The current debate on health care does not address solutions to the cause of disease, in fact, that is not even discussed, the debate is solely about how to give everyone the opportunity to get medical treatment for disease. This is a good thing, but how about we make it so less people get disease, that would be a better goal, and an achievable one.

Childhood obesity rate nearly doubles

We’re fat. Americans that is. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese and a third of children are obese. That’s bad enough. Now, a newly published study of 700,000 children and teens in southern California reports that more than 6%, or 45,000, were extremely obese, almost twice the share found in an earlier study.

Obese children are defined as those whose weight is above the 95th percentile for their age and height and extreme obesity is 1.2 times that measurement.

According to Dr. Amy Porter, a scientist working for Kaiser Permanente and a study co-author - "Without major lifestyle changes, these kids face a 10 to 20 years shorter life span and will develop health problems in their 20s that we typically see in 40-to-60-year-olds." Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and adds about $150 billion a year to U.S. health care costs.

And this in Southern California, where one might presume that typically good weather favors engagement in outdoor activities, the kind that are physical and lead to a healthy body weight.

Co-author Corinna Koebnick said the results of the broad multiethnic study probably applied across the country.

Why all the fat? Could video games and the accompanying decline in physical activity be a part? An increase in fattening snack foods? How about school lunches? Kudos to first lady Michelle Obama, who is leading an administration effort to fight childhood obesity focused on improving nutrition in homes and in schools. And by example, she planted that famous White House garden! Today, in fact, she is planning her 2010 organic fruit and vegetable garden and having local school children help her as part of her Let’s Move campaign.

Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would set national nutrition standards for food sold in U.S. schools and set aside money for school gardens. The provisions are part of a broader proposal by Lincoln that includes $3.2 billion in new funding over the next 10 years to help curb childhood obesity.

Let’s hope they include vegetarian options daily as they revamp the school lunch program.


Source: JoAnne Allen, "US child obesity problem worse than thought," Reuters Health Information, March 19, 2010.

"Fun for You": Corporate doublespeak for "Bad for You"

Pop quiz, everybody:

The opposite of good is:

  • bad
  • fun
  • Pepsi

If you answered a), you’re probably a mom. If you answered b), you’re probably a kid, or a PepsiCo executive. If you answered c), you’re 33% less likely to become obese.

Unless you have an addiction or a profit incentive, you probably know by now that soda is not good for your health. Soda delivers empty calories that you’re body doesn’t recognize as food, and which carry no nutritional value. Drinking soda on a regular basis is linked to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, kidney problems, and a host of other health problems.

Under assault by common sense, the bloated soft drink industry is clumsily lunging for a makeover. PepsiCo is trying to remake its image from being the purveyor of sugary, salty snacks to being the purveyor of slightly-less-sugary, slightly-less-salty, but no-less-delicious snacks it calls its “Fun For You” line. That’s compared to its “Good For You” and “Better For You” lines, which are mostly composed of Quaker, Dole and Tropicana products.

The Economist reports, “To that end, on March 22nd [company president Indra Nooyi] unveiled a series of targets to improve the healthiness of Pepsi’s wares. By 2015 the firm aims to reduce the salt in some of its biggest brands by 25%; by 2020, it hopes to reduce the amount of added sugar in its drinks by 25% and the amount of saturated fat in certain snacks by 15%.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re bowing to public opinion and at least making an effort to improve the healthiness of their products. But PepsiCo trying to reduce the amount of sugar in sodas sounds a bit like Phillip Morris trying to take the nicotine out of cigarettes. The reason people drink Pepsi is for the sugar and caffeine rush, just like the reason most people smoke cigarettes is for the nicotine rush. If a company knows that their products are unhealthy and addictive, the honest thing to do would be to completely revamp their product line, or get out of the business. Making minor alterations to an essentially unhealthy product is not enough.   

First Lady Michelle Obama, continuing her Let’s Move campaign to reduce childhood obesity, recently called the major food conglomerates on this behavior. At a recent speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, she was, by all reports, tactful but direct in her assertion that their products contributed to childhood obesity. She called on them “not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.” The audience, including representatives from PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Con Agra, McDonalds and Kraft, gave her a standing ovation.

What accounted for their enthusiasm? It could be that they believe they are already in compliance with her requests. In an official press statement, the GMA claimed, “Our industry is an enthusiastic supporter of Mrs. Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative and its goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation. In recent years, our companies have reduced calories, sugar, fat and sodium in more than 10,000 products. They have also enhanced the nutritional profile of many products with the addition of whole grains, fiber or other nutrients and created the informative and convenient 100-calorie pack.”

Here’s a question: if PepsiCo is so committed to the health of its consumers, why do they call their most unhealthy products “fun?” Doesn’t this give kids the message that foods that are bad for you are fun? Diabetes is not fun. Obesity is not fun. So let’s cut the corporate doublespeak and call it like it is. I’ll let the courageous Mrs. O have the last word:

“…what [change] doesn’t mean is taking out one problematic ingredient, only to replace it with another.  While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn’t.  And it doesn’t mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones -- for example, adding a little bit of Vitamin C to a product with lots of sugar, or a gram of fiber to a product with tons of fat doesn’t suddenly make those products good for our kids.

This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy.  As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy -- products that can help shape the health habits of an entire generation."