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.

Fast food outlets advise UK government on obesity

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health.


The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal’s physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.


Campaign groups have criticised the move as an impossible alliance between big business and public health, likening it to placing the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free spaces.

Each network will be co-chaired by ministers to come up with policies in an overhaul of public health policy, reported The Guardian. Some are expected to be contained in the public health white paper due in the next few weeks.

Mr Lansley’s reforms are seen as a test case for Tory policies on replacing state intervention with private and corporate action.

Working alongside the networks will be consumer and public health groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health.


The networks, which are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, have been asked to suggest measures to tackle obesity and alcohol and diet-related issues.

Kentucky fried chicken
Kentucky fried chicken

Another network aims to change behaviour, and is chaired by the National Heart Forum, while the physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association.

The alcohol network is chaired by the head of the lobby group Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Leading liver specialist Sir Ian Gilmore has agreed to become a member of the alcohol network. However, he is concerned that the union of industry and public health may prove unworkable.


He questioned whether there can be ‘a meaningful convergence between the interests of industry and public health since the priority of the drinks industry was to make money for shareholders while public health demanded a cut in consumption’.

‘On alcohol there is undoubtedly a need for regulation on price, availability and marketing and there is a risk that discussions will be deflected away from regulation that is likely to be effective but would affect sales,’ he added.

Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK

‘On food labelling we have listened too much to the supermarkets rather than going for traffic lights calorie system which health experts recommend.’

It is a view shared by the food campaign group Sustain. Organisation head Jeanette Longfield told The Guardian: ‘This is the equivalent of putting the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free spaces.

‘We know this “let’s all get round the table approach” doesn’t work, because we’ve all tried it before, including the last Conservative government. This isn’t “big society”, it’s big business.’