Pepsi executives are looking to improve their image. And in that vein, the New York company announced today it has committed to cutting sweet calories in its product offerings by 2025.
The company will reduce added sugars in two-thirds of its products to 100 calories, or for drinks that are 12 ounces or larger. It says this is more ambitious than the company’s original — and somewhat nebulous — goal of reducing 25 percent of sugars in some drinks in some markets by 2020.
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Pepsi gets most of its revenue from other snack and party foods, such as Mountain Dew, Tropicana fruit punches, and high-fat hummus and guacamole products. Its new goals have also addressed the high sodium and high saturated fat content in some other wares.
The soda companies have actively lobbied against recent health-focused measures to curb obesity. The World Health Organization issued a report last week that discussed the latest research on sugary drink taxes, proving that taxes of 20 percent or more led to considerable reduction in caloric intake and thus helped lower obesity rates. Similarly, the report also showed that when governments used the revenue from sweet drinks taxes to subsidize healthier options, such as fruits and vegetables, people began making more nutritious food choices.
Soda companies, however, have opposed 28 bills in recent years aimed at levying soda taxes or placing restrictions on advertising to vulnerable populations. In light of the opposition to these movements, the about-face from Pepsi strikes some as a publicity stunt more than a sincere concern for public health.
[lz_bulleted_list title=”Obesity in U.S.” source=”http://www.stateofobesity.org”]Adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in four states, 30 percent in 25 states, and are above 20 percent in all states. Louisiana has the highest adult obesity rate at 36.2 percent; Colorado has the lowest at 20.2 percent.[/lz_bulleted_list]
Sugar substitutes come with their own problems. The five approved artificial sweeteners — saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose — taste sweeter than actual sugar and can nurture a taste for hyper-intense sweet foods. Some research even shows that we begin to forget the association between sweet foods and high calories, causing us to consume more unhealthy food. One study showed that people who drank a high proportion of diet drinks in one week were twice as likely to be overweight or obese.
And some health professionals feel skeptical about whether soda taxes would even work. “Reducing the sugars isn’t going to do much for obesity — nor will a tax. People will still choose sugary foods and then add soda. Education is the key; then people can be free to make their own choices,” said Christina Major, nutritionist and co-owner of Radiance Holistic Center and Academy in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.
Major concedes that stevia might not have as many negative effects as other sweeteners, but should still be used with caution. “Using stevia might help, since it is a more natural sugar alternative. But people with potassium problems should be made aware of the significant side effects,” she told LifeZette. Stevia leaves contain potassium, among other things.
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Pepsi has been fighting soda taxes for a while now, and the company may have a point. Such taxes place a disproportionate financial burden on poor people and small businesses. African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans consume more soda than people in white communities, mostly as a result of targeted advertising and nutrition education.
In the end, the solution may not be to raise taxes, since that will unfairly target already vulnerable populations. It may have more to do with helping and teaching poorer communities about nutritious food choices.