More Bad Science Trying to Promote Panic Over Sodas

Posted on March 22, 2013


If a Harvard study says it, it must be true, right?  Not so much!

In her ABC News article “25,000 US Deaths Linked to Sugary Drinks,” Katie Moisse opens with the sentence, “In a study that’s sure to shake up the soda ban debate, Harvard researchers have linked the sugary drinks to 180,000 deaths a year worldwide, 25,000 in the United States alone.”  Wow, who knew that soda was so deadly?  We need to quit, right now!  Mayor Bloomberg was right!  Bring on the nanny state, we need laws to protect us from this sugary scourge!  Science can’t be wrong, can it?

Well, there is such a thing as bad science, and there are people with political agendas that seize on bad science and tenuous connections for their own purposes.  The Harvard study is especially worrisome because Gitanjali Singh, the lead author, appears more concerned with policymaking than actual science.  According to ABC News:  “‘I think our findings should really impel policymakers to make effective policies to reduce sugary beverage consumption since it causes a significant number of deaths,’ she said, adding that she thinks ’cause’ is an appropriate word despite the limitations of the association study.”

And that’s the problem right there.  No one has proven that sugary drinks cause death, yet, here we have a scientist – a Harvard scientist, for cripes’ sake – making the statement that they do.  Bad science, people!

Science, like justice, is supposed to be blind to our personal wishes; it is supposed to deal in hard, provable, demonstrable facts.  The Harvard study leans heavily on two actual facts:

Fact:  sugary drinks are high in calories and can contribute to obesity.

Fact:  obesity-related diseases can cause death (examples, diabetes or cardiovascular disease).

To conclude from these two facts that sugary drinks cause death is what is known among actual scientists as the logical fallacy of hasty generalization.  There are simply too many shifting variables in the arenas of nutrition, fitness, and the environment to determine that sugary drinks are the primary cause of the spike in obesity.

The ethical problem is, the Harvard researchers claim to have tied these facts together and thus linked sugary drinks to thousands of deaths worldwide.  Well, color me skeptical.  For this to be a real scientific conclusion, one would have to show that these deceased subjects developed fatal diseases directly because of sugary drinks.  Good luck with that.

Let’s look at a few other facts that muddy the waters quite a bit:

Fact:  about 30% of obese people are actually healthy.  Obesity, by itself, is not a cause of death.

Fact:  we are exposed to far more synthetic chemicals in our environment today, than our grandparents were.  Flame retardants, synthetic manufacturing byproducts in shoes and fabrics and carpets, BPA- lined food cans, plastic bottles, pesticides, synthetic hormones, and so on… and on.   Moreover, fetuses and children are often more susceptible to the ill effects of these chemicals.  While the Harvard scientists and government nannies flail over how much sugar we consume, there are plenty of other scientists studying the disease-causing properties of synthetic chemicals.

Fact:  housewives of the 1950s were far more active and burned more calories than their counterparts today.  They probably didn’t drink as many sodas as we do now, but they did consume more sugar, more eggs, and more fats than we do on average.

Fact: children of past generations were more physically active than children are today.  Whether we blame this on television, computers, helicopter parents, being warehoused in daycare, suburban sprawl, fears of the boogeyman, or whatever combination of these – the end result is that today’s children are fatter, sicker, and more sluggish than those of yesteryear.  In the UK, there is even concern that increasing numbers of school-age children are unable to run, jump, or throw or catch a ball.  Today’s American children are also medicated at staggering rates:  more than a quarter of school-age kids are on some kind of chronic medication.  So I ask you:  will cutting sodas out of their diets fix these problems?  No, it goes much deeper than that.

Fact (and here’s where it gets personal):  My parents introduced me to Coca-Cola at the tender age of maybe two.  Why?  We were living overseas at that time, in rather backward and unsanitary conditions.  At home, we had to boil and charcoal-filter all of our water.  While traveling around outside the home, sodas, beer, and hot coffee or hot tea were about the safest options for avoiding gastrointestinal infections.  So outside the home, Coca-Cola it was!  I have been drinking sodas pretty much all my life.  I enjoy them.  I am healthy, reasonably fit, and at my optimum weight.  I even have all my teeth!  My goodness, how did I manage this?  Shouldn’t I, the middle-aged, lifelong soda-sucker, be fat, diabetic, and on my deathbed, to hear Mayor Bloomberg tell it? Why haven’t I developed a chronic disease yet?  Because the problem is not sodas.

See, I also grew up decades ago.  Before chemically-treated carpets, before flame-retardant clothing, before personal computers, before helicopter parenting, before cans were lined with BPA coatings, before genetically modified crops, even before a lot of the vaccinations that are routine today.  My little peers and I were outside every day doing all kinds of things that children are practically banned from today:  walking to school, climbing trees, building forts and playing war, or biking away unsupervised to get a ten-cent, 1.5 ounce candy bar out of a vending machine.  There were only about 1,000 McDonald’s restaurants, whereas today there are over 13,000… and many more fast-food chains besides.

See all those variables in there?  It’s a pretty complex picture, so beware of any politician or scientist who confidently points to just one culprit as the Devil which is causing all of our ills today.  That’s just bad science and lazy thinking.

Related articles:

All You Do-Gooders on the Bloomberg Bandwagon: Food Bans Have No Place in a Free Country

Hands Off My Sodas, Nanny Government!