Calorie counting is hot, sugary drinks are not

Consumption of full-calorie, sugary soda is on the decline, down 25 percent since the 1990s.
Consumption of full-calorie, sugary soda is on the decline, down 25 percent since the 1990s. Associated Press file

It’s the stereotype that we’ve never quite been able to shake: the fat American. The adults who hit up a fast-food drive-thru at least once a day to scarf down burgers and fries. Or the kids who fill up on candy and guzzle soda like water.

For decades, our eating and drinking habits have been a symbol of excess and gluttony, the American dream turned the American nightmare. But at last, things appear to be changing.

New research, much of it reported recently by The New York Times, shows that Americans – children and adults – are consuming fewer calories than they have in years. The decline is the first sustained one since the federal government started tracking obesity rates and caloric intake 40 years ago.

Americans are by no means healthy. But we’re getting better, nudged along by public campaigns warning us to watch what we eat and drink, and scary research on the disastrous effects of obesity.

Leading the charge has been a decline in the amount of full-calorie soda we drink. Just 17 years ago, Americans, on average, bought a whopping 40 gallons of full-calorie soda a year. Last year, that dropped to 30 gallons, which is about how much Americans bought before obesity became an epidemic.

It took Americans a long time to get here. Yet sadly, not unlike the tobacco industry, some corporations seem prepared to take us backward to maintain their supersized profits.

The American Beverage Association recently filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco in hopes of trashing three ordinances that target soda and other sugar-loaded drinks.

One ordinance would require all billboard ads to include a health warning. Another would ban ads for the beverages on city property, such as bus shelters, and the third one would bar city agencies from using public money to buy the stuff.

The lawsuit claims San Francisco is violating the First Amendment by imposing its singular worldview. It also claims that the beverage industry is being unfairly singled out with ordinances that convey the “misleading” idea that sugary drinks “are hazardous in any quantity and more hazardous to health than any other food or beverage.”

Multiple studies have linked the consumption – particularly the overconsumption – of sugary drinks to Type 2 diabetes, increased risk of heart attack and obesity. Health warnings on ads for soda are as rational as the warnings on ads for alcohol and cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a third of American adults are obese. One study said obesity added $147 billion to health care costs – and that was in 2008 – and that medical costs average $1,400 a year more for obese people than people who are of normal weight.

We can understand why the American Beverage Association is alarmed by the calorie-cutting trend. But that cannot be a reason to turn back the clock on progress.