There’s controversy lurking behind the “Don’t Drink Yourself Fat” campaign launched by the New York City Health Department. Experts are disputing the claim that “Drinking one can of soda per day can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.”
E-mails obtained by The New York Times show that even the chief nutritionist Cathy Nonas had her doubts about the commercial, which ran on local news stations and as a viral video on the web. “CAUTION,” she wrote on August 20, 2009. “As we get into this exacting science, the idea of a sugary drink becoming fat is absurd.” City health commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley permitted the ads because he felt that “what people fear is getting fat,” as opposed to a more nuanced discussion of nutritional value.
Print versions of the ad show a can of soda turning into fat as it’s poured into a glass (shown above). A newer advertisement shows a man eating the amount of sugar in a soda.
“Basic premise doesn’t work,” Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, a professor of pediatrics and clinical medicine at Columbia, said in an e-mail to Ms. Nonas on Aug. 18, 2009. The debate reveals the difficulty of balancing science with a marketing message. Although few would argue that soda is nutritious, it’s fairly difficult to predict how sugar will be converted into calories and then into fat. Experts have pointed out that these conversions vary from person to person, depending on age, genes, exercise and gender.
“We know gaining and losing weight isn’t that cut and dry,” said Sabira Taher, the campaign manager. “Some people can drink and eat whatever they want and still maintain their weight without doing an incredible amount of exercise to burn off the extra calories.”
In the effort to fight obesity, the Mayor Bloomberg lobbied to have a soda tax implemented in the city.