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Jewish World Review June 11, 2001 / 21 Sivan, 5761

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

Choosing between cold refreshment and terminal illness? -- THIS year marks the twenty-seventh anniversary since Pepsi-Cola became the first American consumer product to be produced, marketed, and sold in the former Soviet Union. Yet such an indelible symbol of American exceptionalism - in no small measure responsible for the weakening of the then-Evil Empire's war against private enterprise - is, like its industry cohorts, manning the ramparts again. No, the communist thugs are dead or long since vanquished, replaced by a more popular if no less tenacious enemy from within: America's soda police.

And, like the Soviet quacks that diagnosed political dissidents as mentally ill, America's soda police distort science and manipulate data for political profit. The leading organization committed to the wholesale removal of soft drinks from the nation's high schools, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), alleges in a report, Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans' Health, that soda is an accomplice to, if not the principal culprit behind, obesity, heart disease, kidney stones . . . and, yes, tooth decay.

Now, most children remember or obey the health adage about proper dental care, flossing and brushing after every meal -- but heart disease and kidney stones? According to CSPI, high-sugar diets maycontribute to heart disease in people who are "insulin resistant." In other words, some people have poor cholesterol, which potentially increases the risks of heart disease when combined with a diet high in carbohydrates. Yet the study's report draws an obvious conclusion -- that too much sugar is not necessarily healthy -- while offering no applicable data about adolescents.

Notwithstanding CSPI's dubious scientific assertions, including a trial study of 1,009 men who had suffered kidney stones and drank at least 5 1/3 ounces of soda per day, the war against soft drinks has a suspiciously political undertone. Take, for instance, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. He would ban the "free" distribution of sodas and other snacks, motivated, presumably, by a 40 percent drop in milk consumption among high school students in the last 20 years. Yet Vermont's importance as a dairy state, not to mention Leahy's blatant patronage (he claims current soft drink legislation " . . . hurts our children"), further politicizes scientific experiments concerning soda consumption.

Still, junkscience and machine politics obscure the soft drink industry's positive contribution toward high school programs. Schools, according to CNN, can generate $100,000 per year from soft drink sales, thereby funding extracurricular activities and other otherwise prohibitively expensive (yet intellectually rewarding) after-school programs. In fact, the nominal drawbacks of such "product placement" -- as if Nike and Adidas politely target high school students -- do not outweigh the money saved by taxpayers and school administrators.

Again, the soda police dismiss these findings -- focusing instead on soda's alleged causal relationship with the spread of allergies, osteoporosis and bladder cancer. Never mind the absurdity of ignoring additional factors -- like, say, genetic predisposition or alcohol and/or tobacco consumption -- which make soda a relatively benign health risk. Also, the soda police overlook each student's choice to accept or decline soft drink consumption. Put another way, soda is not a gateway drug; Coke is not cocaine.

CSPI's extremism makes the cola wars of the 1980s seem downright nostalgic. Choosing between Coke or Pepsi is easy; choosing between cold refreshment or terminal illness is more stark. But soda does not carry a health warning for an obvious reason: it is not dangerous. Certainly excessive cola consumption, like binge eating or radical dieting, is not necessarily advisable. Though the likelihood that soda consumption will summon the nation's will to outlaw -- or, should former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop need work, to condemn -- the sale of Coke or Pepsi is frighteningly absurd. Rather, have a Coke (or Pepsi) . . . and smile.

Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein