In response to my decision to remove sugary drinks from my pharmacy in September of 2014, there seem to be the odd lingering claim that “…targeting the sale of one particular category is not going to have a significant impact [on obesity]”, and that “information – not restriction – is key.”
While we agree with the point that obesity is a complex, multifactorial problem, it is completely baseless, in fact hovering on outright deception, that extra calorie intake does not increase your weight. In 2013, the journal PLOS Medicine published a systematic review of systematic reviews, which are the most comprehensive forms of evidence that we have. This review by Bes-Rastrollo and colleagues found that 83% of reviews not funded by the beverage industry a relationship between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain. On the other hand, 83% of the reviews that were funded by the industry found insufficient evidence to support a positive association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain or obesity.
Also keep in mind metabolic disease which has also been shown to increase with consumption of these drinks and is one of the main reasons we pharmacists see our customers (high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, increased abdominal obesity, and insulin resistance). For example, a 2010 meta analysis in the Journal of Diabetes Care of over 300,000 subjects found that those that consumed the most sugary drinks, one or two per day (pop, juice, vitamin water, iced tea and energy drinks) had a 26% greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes than those that drank none or 1 serving per month. They concluded that weight gain and metabolic syndrome correlates positively with consumption of these drinks. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2011 which followed over 120,000 people and concluded that one 12 ounce sugary beverage serving a day increased their weight more than those that did not consume this beverage. Finally, a 2012 study in Circulation followed 40,000 men and found a 20% higher chance of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack when one can of sugary beverage per day was consumed compared to men that didn’t. This was verified by a second study.
Calorie consumption from all sugary beverages combined has continued to climb each decade, especially among children and teens. By coincidence, today, the World Health Organization is changing its recommendation for daily total consumption of sugar to 6-12 teaspoons daily. This would be exceeded by consuming even one can of soda. Finally, we are seeing revised recommendations on sugar that follows science. The new recommendation now recommends free sugars being as low as 5% of total calories, meaning a serving of orange juice is off limits – imagine, a recommendation that pushes you to eat the fruit instead of drinking the juice. Brilliant! There is now a separation of total sugars and free sugars. The total sugar concept meant you could gobble up your calories with juice and pop, but now it’s considered free sugar.
The withdrawal of sugary beverages from Stone’s Pharmasave in Baddeck was not meant to “ban” pop sales, and I certainly do not expect to see a drastic change in obesity levels in my town as a result of my decision. I made this decision to help educate my customers on the effects of sugary drinks. I therefore agree that education is an important component of healthy eating. However, in keeping with recommendations from world experts in obesity research (see the 2015 Lancet Obesity Series), I am also aiming to move beyond education by starting to create an environment in my store that is supportive of healthy food choices. As a pharmacist, I know I shouldn’t sell tobacco, no matter what the industry claims. I don’t feel I should sell sugary beverages, either.