Soda is known to have negative health effects, and has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and an endless array of other health problems. At this point though, most people are aware of this. Health advocacy groups have targeted soda for years with varying levels of success. The attempt to limit the sale of sugary sodas in New York City by Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a testament to the success of anti-soda campaigns. Just the fact that lawmakers are actually discussing legal limitations on the sale of soda now is considered a huge win.
However, Bloomberg’s campaign was unsuccessful, in part because it lacked public support. This is not just because they were uninterested. While many people are aware of soda’s detrimental effects, few are aware of the efforts being made by soft drink companies to impede the establishment of legislation that could improve the health of Americans.
Dr. Marion Nestle, who graduated with a Masters of Public Health from Berkeley and has authored several books on food and soda politics, investigated why Bloomberg’s anti-soda efforts failed. Coca-Cola donated grants to community health organizations across New York City. According to Nestle, any health organization that asked could get funding from Coca-Cola. These were the groups most likely to support the soda legislation, and many became unwilling to do so because of the support they received from the soft drink industry.
Legislation eventually passed to raise the tax on soft drink sales, but only after efforts were made specifically to combat the lobbying done by soda companies. According to Nestle, soda companies see public health advocacy as the enemy. Companies are required to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission any potential vulnerability to their profit margins. Coca-Cola has reported every year for the past 10 years that the obesity epidemic stands to hurt their profits. This is because health advocacy groups campaigning against Coca-Cola have impacted their sales.
As a result, soda companies across the board are making efforts to distance themselves from being connected to obesity, taking steps like the ones taken in New York to stand between health advocacy groups and legislation that could impact soda sales. Public health officials planning to enact similar legislation would do well to recognize the influence of soda companies if they hope to succeed in health campaigns that seek to educate the public on the negative health effects of drinking sugary soda.