Public health crusaders like Kelly Brownell have long demonized sugar-sweetened beverages
in an effort to get governments to tax them. As support for this
questionable proposal, they claim scientific research shows a “link”
between consumption of sugared drinks and a rise in obesity rates. But
a study released this week casts doubt on the whole premise of this demonization campaign.
As Food Navigator reports, new research in the International Journal of Obesity finds the supposed “link” between sugary drinks and obesity may suffer
from significant biases—the same sort of bias that the food police
endlessly complain about. Researchers from the University of Alabama
examined how studies on sugar-sweetened beverages were cited in later
research. They concluded that the results of two studies—which showed a
statistically insignificant link between sugary drink consumption and obesity—were later overstated by future researchers, and then by the media.
Why? Because of what these researchers call “white hat bias,”
or the tendency to distort results to fit a preconceived notion of who
the “bad guys” in the obesity debate are. In this case, the “black
hats” are worn by sports drinks, soda, and chocolate milk, even though
there is plenty of under-the-media-radar evidence to the contrary.
Dietitian Monica Reinagel sums it up:
[The researchers] show that studies which do find a link between
sweetened beverages and obesity are much more likely to be accepted for
publication than studies that fail to find a link—a so-called
publication bias. In other words, scientists have become so convinced
that soda is a "bad guy" in the war on obesity that they overlook or
misinterpret evidence to the contrary.
As we’ve documented, there’s plenty of scientific research that fails to suggest
sugary drinks are a unique contributor to obesity. By ignoring the lack
of scientific consensus and donning “white hats,” Brownell and other
public health activists have simply created a red herring.
Is anyone surprised?