Soft drink makers fight back

Fizzy drinks makers are suing New York City’s health department after claiming its anti-obesity campaign makes ‘baseless’ attacks on their products.

An industry umbrella group took legal action against the city over claims it improperly withheld evidence for its anti-soft drinks campaign requested through the Freedom of Information Act.

The city has been at the forefront of education efforts in the fight against obesity, with TV and billboard adverts warning of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption.

ABA spokesman Chris Gindlesperger said his group made the same request as the New York Times, but that the newspaper received more information than the ABA.

‘Public health departments are going out and aggressively misrepresenting our products in advertising and using taxpayer money to do that,’ Mr Gindlesperger said.

The soft drinks industry says it is defending its products from ‘baseless’ attacks, and its attorneys have filed at least six document requests with public agencies across the country.

Efforts to deter consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fatty foods have gained favour in the U.S. as rises in obesity drive up healthcare costs.

Soft drinks
Soft drinks

Anti-obesity campaigners say the requests – which can take hundreds of staff hours for cash-strapped governments to satisfy – echo the tactics of the tobacco industry.

‘It is, in our opinion, an effort to overwhelm or smother government employees, who already have too much to do,’ said Ian McLaughlin, an lawyer at the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Oakland, California.

Elsewhere, northern California’s Santa Clara County received a letter in May from law firm Latham & Watkins asking for all records relating to its ‘Rethink Your Drink’ education campaign.

The law firm, which represents the ABA, sent similar requests to Chicago and Seattle county governments for all evidence connected to their fizzy drink education efforts.

Mr Gindlesperger said the municipalities are large enough to handle the requests, which are meant to uncover what the ABA claims is shoddy science used in anti-obesity campaigns.

Based on its Freedom of Information request, the New York Times reported in October on an internal dispute within the New York City health department over what claims it could make based on the science regarding sugar intake and weight gain.

Daniel Peddycord, Santa Clara County’s public health director, stood by his agency’s efforts.

He said: ‘This is one of the things where the science is really clear … Americans are consuming far, far, far too much sugar.’

Roughly two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese, and rates continue to rise.

Obesity contributes to diabetes and other costly chronic diseases.

Each day, the average American adult consumes roughly 22 teaspoons (90 grams), or 355 calories, of added sugars, well above health guidelines.

Caloric sweeteners in beverages are a key source of excess calories. New U.S. dietary guidelines recommend drinking water instead sugary drinks.

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola Co declined to comment, referring reporters to the ABA.