Calley Means, a former Coca-Cola lobbyist turned whistleblower, sheds light on some of the tactics that food companies use to protect their profits at the expense of public health.
In an interview with activist, Russell Brand, Means explained a page from the food industry playbook: Coca-Cola had been actively and strategically promoting the idea that sugary drinks like Coke could be part of a healthy diet, despite enormous evidence to the contrary. Means revealed that Coca-Cola had been working directly with healthcare providers to downplay the link between sugary drinks and diabetes and sponsoring thousands of studies to confuse the link between dietary sugar and obesity.
Means reported that the food industry currently contributes eleven times more money to nutritional research than the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to muddy the obesity-research waters at top institutions. They have to divert attention from the smoking gun that is sugar, as 45 percent of teenagers are obese or overweight and diabetes affects over 34 million Americans, and counting.
According to Means, Coke funded research that aimed to shift the blame for diabetes from sugar consumption to factors like genetics. But the link between sugary drinks and diabetes is well-established. Studies have shown that consuming just one sugary drink per day, for example, can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 26 percent. Despite this and the common knowledge that blood sugar spikes are exactly what lead to insulin resistance, the soda industry has continued to promote sugary drinks as part of a healthy lifestyle, even as rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases have skyrocketed.
“Children are putting poisonous food into their system everyday.”
The revelations from Means are just the latest in a string of scandals involving big food companies and their marketing tactics. In recent years, companies like Nestle, Kellogg's, and PepsiCo have used deceptive advertising to promote unhealthy products to children, and have funded research that supports their industry-friendly positions.
These companies spend millions of dollars each year on lobbying and campaign contributions, which allows them to shape laws and regulations to their advantage. For example, Coca-Cola has been known to fund organizations that promote policies friendly to the soda industry, such as limits on taxes and regulations.
The NIH and regulatory agencies are working against, not for, our children’s health. It’s up to us to be aware of the risks associated with sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods, and demand that our elected officials take action to protect public health.
One way to do this is by supporting policies like taxes on sugary drinks, which have been shown to reduce consumption and improve public health. Another is by supporting organizations like Moms Across America (MAA) that advocate for clean food and fight back against the influence of big food companies. We can’t sit back and let the wolf run the henhouse. MAA emplores all concerned citizens to contact their Congress members and the USDA to demand that they take immediate action to provide safe, nutrient-dense food to our nation’s children (see link below).
As consumers, we have the power to make a difference by demanding transparency and accountability from the companies that make the products our growing children consume every day. It's up to us to hold policymakers accountable and push for policies that prioritize our health and well-being over corporate profits. MAA is paving the way to do just that with our food testing initiatives and advocacy.
Dietary sugar is also a major contributor to the steady and staggering decline of children’s mental health—one in 20 children has a diagnosable mental or developmental disorder. Studies have shown that diets high in sugar are associated with a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Studies have also shown that sugary diets and refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline and other neurological problems. Additionally, diets high in processed foods have been linked to decreased brain function and increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. “Children are putting poisonous food into their system every day,” said Means. We can’t pretend that isn’t damaging them, as much as the food industry needs us to.
One study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that people who ate a diet high in processed foods had a 58 percent higher risk of depression than those who ate a diet based on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Other studies have found similar links between processed food consumption and anxiety, mood disorders, and even schizophrenia. Logically, because of a less developed blood-brain barrier, smaller size, and developmental vulnerabilities, children are far more affected than the adults shown in these studies.
The mechanisms behind the neurological damage of sugary, processed foods are also known. Processed foods lead to changes in the gut microbiome, which can in turn affect the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are critical for regulating mood and emotion, and disruptions to their production have been linked to mental health problems, especially in developing little ones.
Overall, the neurological, physical, and mental health effects of processed food—from diabetes and beyond—are a growing concern that can not be ignored. Food choices have a profound impact on overall well-being. By making an effort to prioritize whole foods and by advocating for policies that promote healthy food, we can provide a healthier and happier future for our children.
To help fund our food testing initiatives, please donate to MAA here.
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