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?