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Hiding Under a Health Halo: An Interview with Harold Goldstein


Many Americans realize that they shouldn’t be drinking soda. But what they don’t realize is that other popular beverages have just as much--if not more--sugar. That’s what Leader Harold Goldstein, DrPH, with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, cautions in a new study on what he calls the beverage industry’s “halo of health” for drinks marketed to children.

“We wanted to take a look at drinks that are perceived (and marketed) as healthy--fruit drinks, energy drinks, vitamin water” Goldstein said in an interview with Inside Track. “These drinks may look and sound healthy. This study showed that they are a sham. They are not healthy at all.”

 The study was authored by Goldstein along with Patricia Crawford, DrPH, RD, Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins with the Center for Weight and Health, UC Berkeley and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program.

One of the core issues the study highlights, Goldstein said, is that “many of the drinks we analyzed have added ingredients that have never been proven safe for children or teens.” In addition, many of the ingredients can have a synergistic effect. “Things like taurine, guarana or ginseng – most people probably have no idea what they are, or know that they magnify the effects of caffeine.”

The study looked at 21 beverages that are commonly advertised and available to youth. Researchers then compared marketing claims made about those beverages with their nutritional value. The drinks fell into five categories: sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water and sweetened teas and coffee.

The researchers found that each of these beverages made marketing claims that could not be substantiated. For example, sports drinks are designed for people actively exercising vigorously – like running a marathon -- for 60 minute or more at a time. “This is not the case for most kids,” Goldstein said. In fact, “When we encourage kids to go out and be active, it is so that they burn calories. When they drink a sports drink, they can easily consume more calories than they burn.”

Goldstein added that more than just adding extra calories to children’s diets, these beverages can contribute to negative health outcomes. “Drinking just one sugary drink per day increases a child’s risk of being overweight by 55 percent,” Goldstein said. “And drinking one or two sugary drinks per day increases the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 26 percent.”

The report concludes with the following recommendations:

  • Prohibit the sale and marketing of sports, energy and any other “new” types of sugary drink in school and enact public policies designed to reduce youth access to, and consumption of, sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Prohibit the sale of energy drinks to children under age 18 until safe consumption levels have been clearly established.
  • Require labels on soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and other sugary drinks to alert consumers to their increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
  • Require the Federal Trade Commission to develop and implement standards for soda, sports drink, energy drink and other sugar-sweetened beverage advertising aimed at children under age 12

To read more about this report, click here.

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