Sweet poison; is soda the new tobacco?


What does tobacco, lead and soda have in common? It is a question I would like us to answer at the end of this article. But first, allow me to digress and offer proof of my Kenyan-ness by engaging in a national pass time we all love to do – whine.

We are a nation of single causes. The latest cause we embrace is determined by what makes more media-worthy attention and grabs headlines. Best headlines are made of bad news, preferably where multiple deaths are occasioned.

But if we ever needed a cause, then it would not be for the public tangible visible disasters. Those are public enough to create their own ire.  We need a cause for far more painful monster that lies amidst us and like bad acid, keeps corroding the very stem of our society, causing more silent deaths than we may care to notice. I am referring to lifestyle diseases. Obesity. Hypertension. Cancers. They are a deadly nuisance but even sadder, most of the time, we are complicit in nurturing them.

I am writing this piece because I seek to single out one particular cause that I would wish we all rallied an awareness campaign against. I believe that I am not misusing hyperbole to make a claim that refined sugars and specifically those in sweet carbonated water more commonly referred to as sodas are easily one of the biggest    causes of lifestyle related diseases in the world. In fact I would go as far as claim that the effects of sodas on our lifestyles is not that much further than that of tobacco, which took us many centuries before we accepted the fact that it was harmful for our health. The only thing that makes it worse is that unlike tobacco, the deadly effects of sodas remain mum.

In fact, big soda companies are using exactly the same script that big tobacco companies used over a century ago to hush discussions that would create awareness of the health effects of tobacco

Consider excerpt from an ad by the Tobacco Industry in USA in 1954 in the USA: -‘Recent reports on experiments with mice have given publicity to a theory that cigarette smoking is in some way linked with lung cancer in human beings. …We feel it is in the PUBLIC INTEREST to call attention to the fact that eminent doctors and research scientists have publicly questioned the claimed significance of these experiments ‘

Let me quote the widely cited 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Kelly Bownell et al in which they made a rather compelling argument for the state to consider a sin tax on sweetened beverages. To quote the citation:   “The relationship between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight has been examined in many cross-sectional and longitudinal studies and has been summarized in systematic reviews. A meta-analysis showed positive associations between the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight (obesity) — associations that were stronger in longitudinal studies than in cross-sectional studies and in studies that were not funded by the beverage industry than in those that were.

The citation goes ahead to state: The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease; therefore, a compelling case can be made for the need for reduced consumption of these beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages are beverages that contain added, naturally derived caloric sweeteners such as sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, or fruit-juice concentrates, all of which have similar metabolic effects.

What is surprising is that, knowing this too well; our public health policy makers are still not doing enough to nip it in the bud before this soda problem rises to become a monster huger than the tobacco syndrome.

Even if one may want to debate the harmful health effect on our lives, the truth is that no one can claim that sodas are such important health additions on our diet that their absence would be cause for alarm. Soda remains coloured water that is less effective to quench thirst than its primary form- age-old water. The time is ripe for a massive anti-soda drinking campaign.   Oh, and to answer the question about the commonalities among tobacco, lead and soda? They were all thought useful at one point before the age of reason dawned upon us.

Sign Up