April 28, 2016

Professor Paints Soda Size as a Political Policy

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Prof. Marion Nestle, nutrition and food studies, New York University and visiting professor of nutrition sciences at Cornell, discussed the soda industry’s political role in the United States and its potential to combat obesity in a lecture Wednesday.

The soda industry plays a larger role in politics than most people assume, according to Nestle. She pointed to how soda politics have affected the 2016 general election.

“Just last week, the candidates for the Democratic primary went head-to-head over, of all things, soda taxes,” Nestle said. “Hillary Clinton came out with a statement saying that she was in favor of Philadelphia’s soda tax whereas Bernie Sanders, who usually takes much more liberal positions on these things, called the tax regressive.”

Nestle said she chose to write a book on this topic because she was interested in in food politics, and the stigma against the soda industry made this topic an obvious choice.

“In public health terms they are low-hanging fruit.” Nestle said. “They contain sugars and water and not much else and certainly nothing else of redeeming social value. They are international companies that are in every country of the world.”

In response to health and obesity concerns as well as growing popularity in soda taxes, the soda industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying, according to Nestle. The soda industry spent up to 11 million dollars lobbying to fight the soda tax in San Francisco, she said.

“The question is why is the soda industry willing to spend this completely ridiculous amount of money to fight these kinds of initiatives,” Nestle said. “A lot of this has to do, I think, with global trends.”

The drop of sales in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand has caused the soda companies to move their marketing overseas, where sales are increasing, a marketing method similar to the strategy of cigarette companies, according to Nestle.

“The most interesting one is Africa. Coca-Cola has committed seventeen billion dollars to marketing and development of product sales in Africa from 2010 to 2020,” Nestle said. “That’s 1.7 billion dollars a year.”

Nestle’s presentation is the final book talk in the ‘Chats in the Stacks’ spring series this year.