Pour One Out or Add a Healthy One In?

Posted: October 12, 2012 in Ask The Guyatitian, News, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Photo Credit: thecitydesk.net (by the way folks, the poster is a parody!)

I get many daily solicitations to promote contests, interview book authors, support causes – you name it. I received this latest request from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to promote their “Pour One Out” campaign which encourages consumers to dump their soda. If you are not familiar with CSPI, they are a consumer advocacy group that’s been around since the early 70’s that provides information on food, health, and the environment. I applaud CSPI- they have been instrumental in raising public awareness of sodium, hidden sugars and the health impact of trans fats, to name a few accomplishments. But for some reason, I found this latest promotion of theirs to be unworthy of their reputation and frankly, down right silly.

So I thought I’d share my email exchange with one of CSPI’s policy associates. If you don’t want to read through the whole thing, I’ll cut to the chase. I argue a few things:

1. Sugary beverages are not the smoking gun in the obesity epidemic – eating too many calories from a variety of foods coupled with inactivity is.
2. Stats can be manipulated to support your cause.
3. Giving up your favorite foods has never worked to control obesity and will never work.
4. Adding in a healthy beverage is a far more positive approach than dumping out a sugary beverage. Want to avoid sugary beverages? Don’t buy them in the first place.

What do you think? I’d love to get your feedback.

Dear Mr. Grotto,

I’m writing from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a national nutrition advocacy group. My organization is running a video contest that might be of interest to your readers and it would be great if you could help spread the word on your blog. The contest aims to raise awareness about the health effects of sugary drinks. Here is some basic text below and I have also included the contest logo. Let me know if you have any questions about the contest or our organization. Thanks!


Help spread the health message about sugary drinks and you could win $1,000!

Sugary Drinks make up the largest single source of calories in the American diet and each year more studies are finding a link between soda and obesity. We invite you to submit a short video pouring out sugary drinks in a fun and creative way for a chance to win up to $1,000! The Pour One Out video contest seeks to reframe perceptions about sugary drinks by raising awareness of the health effects of overconsuming beverages like soda, sports drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks. Videos will be judged on creativity, originality and effectiveness of the health message. Prizes will go to the top 3 videos:
1st place video will receive a $1,000 cash prize
2nd place will receive $500
3rd place will receive $250

Submissions will be accepted until November 7th by email at: fewersugarydrinks@cspinet.org. For more details and the official contest rules, click here.

Ashley P. Lowe

Policy Associate

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Hi Ashley:

Thanks for sending this on to me. Though I’m not interested in participating in the video contest (I think it’s better to simply not buy sugary sodas instead of wasting money on them and then pouring them out) I am very interested in the source for the “fact” that sugary beverages are the single largest source of calories in the American diet. Could you provide this for me?

Thanks in advance!


Hi Dave,

Thanks for your quick reply. We’re encouraging people to use soda they already have when they can to make their videos as an affirmation of their desire to change their lifestyle habits. If you were to encourage people to only use products they have, would that change your opinion of the contest at all?

I’m happy to provide you with the source of the fact on calories from sugary drinks. It comes from a table in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines listing the top 25 sources of calories in the American diet. Combining the category “soda/energy drinks/sports drinks” with “fruit drinks” (which does not include 100% fruit juices), puts sugary drinks in the number one spot. You can view the table (table 2.2) here: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter2.pdf


Hi Ashley:

Thank you so much for getting back to me. I now see how CSPI came up with their final numbers. I thought grained based desserts was the #1 source of calories (I wrote a review article about this for the Journal of Nutrition in Clinical Practice about two years ago using the same data base as USDA – I’d be happy to send a copy to you, if you want to read it) but agree that when you add sugary sodas together with fruit flavored sugary drinks, this combined category indeed makes up the highest calorie intake in the American diet. However, I could have also combined any number of categories such as grain based desserts and yeast breads and said that was the number one source of calories. I think we are on the same team: America eats too many empty calorie foods…period! But where we part company clearly lies in the solution to our eating habits.

Though I respect CSPI and all the work they do, dumping sugary soda is not the solution to our obesity epidemic. Nor is capping off these beverages at 16 ounces ala Bloomberg (whom I also have respect for what he is “trying” to do). You might want to add dumping diet soda to your contest as a report today confirms we are consuming more diet beverages and LESS sugary beverages yet still our obesity rate is heading in the wrong trajectory. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/11/diet-drink-consumption-increases/1624981/

My nutrition philosophy, which has worked with thousands of patients I’ve seen over my career, is to focus on adding in healthy foods while limiting, NOT eliminating decadent “foods”. To think that giving up soda at a movie, cake at a birthday party, candy at Halloween, or a beer and hotdog on a hot day at the ballpark is a sustainable behavior for most Americans is to be completely detached from and out of touch with the real world. We need real world solutions, not silly promotional stunts. I’d be happy to record a video for you called “Add in a real beverage instead”.


David W. Grotto, RD, LDN

    • guyatitian says:

      Thanks for your link, Sam! Great post on scapegoat activism. Why not have a promotion called “Dump your Doughnuts” as sugary grain-based foods are the number one calorie source? It’s a distraction from the real issues behind what drives obesity but then again, everyone loves a scapegoat!

  1. Sam Vance says:

    How about we talk about health, and if people are fat or skinny, then so be it?

    • Good info. Thanks! Also….agreed to Mr. Vance!

    • guyatitian says:

      I totally agree with you, Sam. The focus and conversation should be on achieving health, not a weight category. But a healthy weight is a side consequence of achieving health. I can tell you this Sam. In my nearly thirty years as a registered dietitian nutritionist, rare is the occasion that I counsel patients who have type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, gout, joint problems (and the list goes on) who was not either overweight or obese. Weight and health are tied together whether we like it or not. The solution, however, isn’t to label and shame people but rather create an environment and provide resources that promote health.

  2. Kim Kruse says:

    Interesting conversation. I couldn’t agree more with your points, especially on statistics. Too much weight is emphasized on numbers that can be manipulated with different variables and logistics to eventually reach the corelation originally sought. I understand the importance of studies and statistics, but the more immersed I become in them, the less I put my full faith in them. (Currently in my senior year of a Nutrition and Dietetic degree.)
    Health is a personal choice. Attacking or endorsing a product is not the role of the health professional. It is getting the individual to stop the “blame” and educate them on better choices. It was great to see you demonstrating that professionalism.

  3. Marlene Koch says:

    Love your work. I agree, asking Americans to live without their favorite foods, many of which are tied to events or special occasions (and that come with emotional reward), or making any one food the “enemy,” is not realistic in the real world. Offering great tasting healthy options is a far more positive, and from my experience, effective, way to improve the health of those we serve.

    • guyatitian says:

      Thanks Kim and Marlene. Was just sent a video done by CSPI about a family of polar bears who drink cola and the father polar bear has his paw chopped off with a chain saw because he has complications from diabetes. Does the video point out anything about total diet or lifestyle? Nope. Just make soda the scapegoat for everything wrong with the health of America. If you care to watch it, here it is. Curious to get your feedback. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=myxwCEGcBYc

  4. Excellent points David! I am so glad to see someone stand up and fight for positive and reality-based nutrition solutions. Consumer research keeps telling us that people know what foods not to eat, but when they are asked what foods are healthy they seem to know very little. I totally agree with your approach of helping people eat and drink more healthful choices, and learn how to limit those indulgences. Banning is not the solution, not when it comes to food especially. Obviously the obesity epidemic isn’t being solved with the current approach, so it’s time to start implementing what you suggest here.

  5. Laura Thomas, Ph.D. says:

    As an academic working in the field, I am completely on board with what CSPI are attempting to do here, which is simply to raise awareness of the detrimental health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages (which are more than just empty calories). I’m sorry to see that you’re unwilling to help further this mission by promoting the campaign; it’s a disappointment. I think CSPI are trying to do something creative and imaginative to get the message across to youth in an attempt to circumvent the effect of the millions of dollars beverage companies spend on marketing to this demographic, and I applaud their efforts, however silly or trivial they seem to be. Despite the overall decrease in soda consumption that has been seen in recent years, it still remains to be a huge source of cheap and empty calories in the SAD; particularly among black and latino teens (who are the targets of major advertising campaigns by the soda industry). I think the point here is that any publicity about the negative effects of soda consumption is positive, and if it gets people to cut back on sugary drink then CSPI have accomplished a huge feat.

    • guyatitian says:

      Dr. Thomas:

      I appreciate your thoughtful response and also appreciate your efforts as a psychologist to promote positive lifestyle behaviors.

      As I mentioned in my article, CSPI is to be commended for their many accomplishments that have had a positive affect on public health and awareness. I’m in agreement that we have reached a tipping point and something needs to be done to change our course of health. I can certainly understand why organizations like CSPI resort to promoting shocking videos of a cartoon polar bear who develops diabetes (apparently from just drinking soda, as no other lifestyle or eating habits were acknowledged) and having it’s paw amputated with a chainsaw due to complications, all in an effort to grab the public’s attention. Here’s the link just in case you haven’t seen it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myxwCEGcBYc&feature=player_embedded. Will shocking and fear-promoting, yet limited in scope, videos like this bring about greater awareness? Sure. Will this affect long-term behavior change? Doubtful.

      It has been and always will be about changing overall behavior, not the elimination of one “villain” food or beverage. As someone who has helped thousands of patients through positive change and messaging, I can tell you that in my nearly 30 years working with individuals and families, focusing on what “not to eat” simply doesn’t work long term. Rather, we need to focus on promoting real life sustainable changes that include all foods and beverages.

      So what can CSPI and others do to promote positive change? Continue to put non-nutritious foods and beverages into “proper” perspective. Offer visuals of what moderation looks like instead of demonizing food. We need to create incentives to adopt healthier lifestyles while changing environments to promote healthier eating.

      Having worked with many inner city families, parents need help with stocking the right foods for their families that are delicious, fun and affordable. As you know, junk food is very accessible, highly popular and can be purchased cheaply – this deadly trilogy is exactly why a “dump it out” message won’t be effective. Instead, let’s focus on limiting access in schools, medical facilities, government facilities, etc while offering healthier alternatives to sugary or artificially sweetened beverages. Let’s limit the popularity by educating the public about the concerns of overconsumption of sugary beverages (and other foods) in the context of overall calorie consumption and expenditure while eliminating advertising and marketing of non-nutritious foods and beverages directed towards children.

  6. Thanks for sending this on to me. Though I’m not interested in participating in the video contest (I think it’s better to simply not buy sugary sodas instead of wasting money on them and then pouring them out) I am very interested in the source for the “fact” that sugary beverages are the single largest source of calories in the American diet. Could you provide this for me?

    • guyatitian says:

      Hi Stewart:

      If you combine soda and other sugary beverages as a group, this contributes the largest amount of calories to the Standard American Diet (SAD). CSPI derived their stat from 2007-2008 NHANES data. I also confirmed this stat by comparing with USDA ERS data. If you look at sugary carbonated beverages alone as a category, it takes a back seat to sugary bakery products as the single largest contributing source of calories. Hope that helps and thanks for visiting!


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