Posts Tagged ‘CSPI’

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

As seen on WebMD Real Life Nutrition

We seem to be at odds each and every day with Mother Nature’s plan. Her preference is for us to be opportunists – grabbing calories wherever and whenever we can because we are still hard-wired with the instinct to run from danger, trying to avoid becoming a wild animal’s next meal while also needing enough energy to hunt them to make them ours.  If we don’t have to expend a lot of energy “foraging” for food, Mother Nature rewards us with extra storage fat that will come in handy for those long, cold and hard winters when food is scarce. 

We are omnivores by nature who can eat just about anything. We were gifted with a natural bias towards sweet things such as fruit to obtain instant energy while Mother Nature is rewarded with a fertilized delivery package of undigested seeds to grow replacements. The problem is, for us, that we aren’t eating much of the fruits or vegetables of her labor but she’s okay that we return her seeds back in an altered form.  The landscape has changed and Mother Nature has adapted but we haven’t. In her mind we are doing just what we were programmed to do. Throw in a “drive thru” and we have met out biological goal of maximizing calories in while preserving calories out.

Time to change how we forage? There seems to be greater movement towards changing the world we live in rather than trying to change the individual. Based on our natural tendencies, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Mayor Michael Bloomburg wants to set limits on the volume of sugary beverages that can be sold in restaurants and just recently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has made the argument that the FDA should require the soda industry to cap the sugar we naturally crave, but now easily provided via beverages, to be more in line with dietary guidelines.

Recent research on limiting portion sizes does suggest that we can still be satisfied with less if presented with that as the preferred and only choice. Case in point, Paul Rozin, PhD, department chair of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, recently presented at a conference I attended and said that the portion sizes of many popular McDonald’s items are smaller in McDonald’s located in France versus ones found in the United States. Smaller portions also translate to the French dinner plate at home though they, as we know, consume more decadent calorie and fat laden items as part of the “French paradox” which results in smaller waistlines and less heart disease. Perhaps we too can have our (smaller) croissant and eat it, too?

I can’t believe that it’s me saying this but I’m really wondering if we are heading in the wrong direction in the fight against obesity and improving public health. Maybe trying to change personal responsibility isn’t the right approach especially since it fly’s in the face of our genetic autopilot that prefers that we over consume calories when presented with an opportunity to do so. Maybe the environmental hurdles we encounter daily are just too high for us to depend on our will power to get us over them and we have reached a point that we have to intervene to help Mother Nature. 

With the latest regulatory efforts, we obviously know where to begin but my question is, do we know where it should stop? So I ask you, should we also mandate? 

  1. No more all you can eat buffets or at least requiring paying for each additional plate
  2. The discontinuation of large sizes of anything we eat
  3. Price incentives for purchasing healthier foods while raising prices on larger portion sizes of foods deemed “not healthy
  4. The discontinuation of shows that promote gluttony such as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” or “Man versus Food”
  5. Stiff penalties for parents overheard to say, “Finish eating everything on your plate” 

What say you?


Photo Credit: (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: 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:


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.

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