Thursday, November 15, 2001

Junk science-fueled activist groups are in trouble. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, few are paying attention to their extreme and, frankly, silly crusades.

While many groups sensibly have tempered their activism, the “food police” at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are escalating the campaign against soft drinks.

Exploiting the release of new “Harry Potter” movie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” CSPI is trying to advance its anti-soft drink campaign by attacking Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the movie and promotion of the “Reading Is Fundamental” program for children.

CSPI protested at the D.C. premiere of the new movie, and has launched a web site urging visitors to send letters to “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, urging her to cease the Coca-Cola sponsorship deal or donate the royalties from the deal to fund “nutrition campaigns,” code words for nutty causes like CSPI’s.

The basis for the campaign is CSPI’s characterization of soft drinks as “liquid candy” that contains “a mildly addictive stimulant drug” i.e., caffeine. CSPI alleges that “sugar promotes obesity, a worldwide problem” and that soft drinks displace “more healthful” drinks in the diet.”

“The bottom line,” says CSPI, is that “Liquid candy is bad for health.” The more accurate bottom line, though, is that CSPI is cavalierly ignoring scientific data and commonsense in favor of its self-beneficial activism.

Until earlier this year, only two studies with conflicting results explored the potential relationship between soft-drink consumption and childhood obesity. That’s now changed.

In April 2001, Researchers from the Georgetown University-affiliated Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy presented four new studies at the Experimental Biology 2001 annual meeting.

The studies were based on analyses of data from two national surveys: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Continuing Survey of Food Intake.

The researchers reported:

• No relationship between consumption of carbonated soft drinks and obesity among 12- to 16-year-olds.

• Soft drinks did not reduce calcium consumption among 2- to 20-year-olds.

• Teens who consumed more soft drinks were as physically active as those who consumed fewer soft drinks.

• Soft drink consumption did not harm diet quality among children and teens as measured by the USDA’s Healthy Eating Index.

The researchers added, “We need to stress the vital role of physical activity for all students, not just the best athletes chosen for varsity sports teams.”

Other recent research also takes the fizz out of CSPI’s attack.

Michigan State University researchers reported in May 2000 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrition Summit that soft drinks have not replaced milk in the diets of children aged 1-19. Over the last 10 years, according to the report:

(1) Among children ages 1-5, milk consumption significantly increased and soft drink consumption significantly decreased.

(2) Among children ages 6-9, milk and soft drink consumption remained steady.

(3) Among children ages 10-19, milk consumption remained steady while soft drink consumption increased.

While these data are undoubtedly not the last word on the subject of kids and soft drinks, they certainly seem to fly in the face of CSPI’s claims. Worse, CSPI brazenly ignores these data in hopes that the public will rely on a naive and misplaced intuition that soft drinks are bad because simply they contain sugar and caffeine.

No one advocates that kids drink only or too much soft drinks. They have no nutritional value. But based on recent scientific data and generations of soft drink consumption, there is no question that soft drinks can be a safe treat in an otherwise balanced diet.

Through an $18 million grant associated with its sponsorship of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Coca-Cola will place 10,000 sets of 120 to 150 new, high-quality hardcover children’s books in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and community centers throughout the country.

Maybe CSPI senses such generosity as the real threat to its viability. The better kids learn to read, the less likely they will be to fall for junk science foolishness.

The public is already starting to wise up to CSPI’s gimmick-laden attacks. Reportedly, only about 10 people showed for the protest of the Harry Potter premiere.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of “Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams “(Cato Institute, 2001).

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