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In view of growing obesity rates in the US, the Government has come out with various initiatives to deter people from consuming soft drinks and fatty foods. However these public awareness campaigns have been besieged by legal attacks from beverage makers

Public Awareness Campaigns Besieged by Legal Attacks

In view of growing obesity rates throughout the US, the Government has come out with various initiatives to deter people from consuming sugar sweetened soft drinks and fatty foods. However, of late, these public awareness campaigns have been besieged by legal attacks from the beverage makers.

According to the soda industry, these attacks on their products do no have any scientific backing and are therefore “baseless.”In order to safeguard their interests, representatives of the beverage industry have filed at least six legal suits throughout the length and breadth of the country. The soda making companies are demanding documents which back the Government claim that sugary soft drinks are leading the obesity epidemic. In July this year, the New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has been sued by the American Beverage Association (ABA) for withholding documents it sought through the Freedom of Information Act.

As per Chris Gindlesperger, a representative of the ABA, the public health departments are using the tax payer money to misrepresent facts about sugary soft drinks through aggressive advertising. The ABA has sought information about the science behind these initiatives from the county governments of California, Chicago and Seattle as well, through their law firm Latham and Watkins. It has also requested documents from Philadelphia and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The Government, which is already Facing a Resource Crunch, may Find It Difficult to Respond to these Legal Challenges

According to Russ Sciandra, advocacy director for the American Cancer Society in New York State, the purpose of these litigations is to stop the people associated with the public awareness campaigns from what they are actually meant to do. According to Matias Valenzuela, public education coordinator for the King County Public Health Department in Seattle, responding to the requests by the ABA would take about 750 hours over nine months. The Government, which is already facing a resource crunch, may find it difficult to respond to these legal challenges.

However, the ABA is not ready to buy this argument. It feels that the municipalities are large enough to handle its requests. The ABA representatives say that the food and beverage industry is being unfairly singled out and taking legal action is the only recourse left to them.

Nearly two thirds of adults and one thirds of children in the U.S. suffer from obesity. An estimated $147 billion per year, which amounts to nearly 10% of the annual U.S. medical spending, is spent on obesity related diseases. Apart from this, about $73 are lost annually as the cost of lost worker productivity. According to rough estimates, an average American adult consumes about 22 teaspoons (90 grams), or 355 calories, of added sugars, which is much above the recommended daily allowance. A large part of these extra calories is consumed by way of sugary soft drinks. The latest U.S. dietary guidelines advocate replacing these sugary beverages with water. The Government is trying to raise public awareness about the ill effects of consuming too much sugary soft drinks through multiple campaigns and awareness drives.

  • “Soda makers escalate attacks over obesity”, by Lisa Baertlein and Dan Levine, Reuters, published on Jul 20, 2011, accessed on Aug 3, 2011.
  • Photo courtesy of StudioTempura on Flickr: