The point, one Bloomberg should respect as a business leader, is that solving vexing societal problems in which business plays a role is a slower and bloodier process when business’ needs are ignored, whether the problem be obesity, smoking, guns, automobile safety, or whatever. —Hank Cardello

A new Gallup poll shows young adults, nonwhites and people with few economic resources drink more regular soda in the United States compared to other Americans.

"Diet soda consumption increases with age and as income rises, with seniors and those making $75,000 or more annually being the most likely to consume it. Americans living in the East and those with high incomes are the most likely to shun soda altogether," the survey summary said.

The new Gallup poll also found that 43 percent of Americans don't drink soda at all. Those who do drink it prefer regular soda to diet, 32 percent to 24 percent.

The question is what impact soda, diet or otherwise, has on health and whether it disproportionately affects certain populations, including the poor.

Researchers link soda to weight gain. Regular soda is believed to contribute to obesity, while some experts believe even diet soda may spark weight gain. The survey results hint that low-income, nonwhite and young adults may be putting themselves at risk of obesity. It shows that people who are overweight are more likely to consume soda than those who are "about right." Of those overweight, 32 percent said they consume diet sodas, compared to 19 percent of the "about right" weight group. In both weight groups, 31 percent said they consume regular sodas.

An earlier survey noted that both blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be obese than whites, while Asians are less likely to be obese. Obesity is the unhealthiest range of being overweight, with a Body Mass Index score of 30 or higher. Normal range is 18 to 24.

According to the earlier survey report, "obesity of all types is related to higher levels of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes as well as a lower quality of life — including worse emotional health, more daily pain and more missed work. It is also tied to shorter life expectancy. The more obese an individual is, the more likely he or she is to experience these types of problems. And those who are morbidly obese — with BMIs of 40 or higher — are the most at risk."

Both Gallup surveys and other research have shown that obesity levels go down as income and education levels rise.

The "bottom line," according to analysis of the recent survey, is that "more than half of Americans drink soda — and regular soda edges out diet among those who consume these beverages. Regular soda contains a lot of calories and sugar, which can have negative health implications. Increased awareness of this among government officials and consumers is apparent in efforts to remove soda machines from school lunchrooms, to limit the size of beverages that restaurants can serve and in the decreasing market share for soda compared with bottled water and other beverages."

But there are questions. "It is diet soda that the overweight are much more likely to drink," the survey summary said. "It is possible that overweight Americans have become much more aware of regular soda's high caloric level and could have disproportionately shifted to diet soda, making the exact relationship between consuming soda — regular or diet — and being overweight hard to decipher."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has garnered a great deal of attention for his belief that too much soda consumption hurts health.

In March, he and local health officials released a local study "showing the strong correlation between sugary drink consumption and obesity. The data, from the New York City Community Health Survey, looks at the relationship between sugary drink consumption and obesity by neighborhood and shows that in each of the five boroughs, those neighborhoods with higher rates of consumption of sugary drinks tended to have higher obesity rates."

Bloomberg has fought for a ban on selling sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces in restaurants and other places where people consume food. It didn't affect convenience or grocery store sales of sugary sodas. Bloomberg's personal website tackles the issue by pointing out the risk that comes with excessive weight: "Obesity continues to be one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. Obesity kills thousands of New Yorkers a year and costs $4 billion a year in health care costs. More than half of New York City adults (58 percent) are overweight or obese and nearly 40 percent of New York City’s public school students in grades K-8 are overweight or obese."

The American Beverage Association, the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York were among groups opposing the ban.

A judge struck down his ban and an appeals court agreed with that decision, but Bloomberg, whose term as mayor will soon end, has promised to continue to fight for that ban, including another appeal. Experts say it won't be decided before he leaves office.

Hank Cardello, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote in Forbes that Bloomberg needs to stop trying to take on "Big Soda" to make his case that soda consumption helps create a major health problem.

Comment on this story

"The point, one Bloomberg should respect as a business leader, is that solving vexing societal problems in which business plays a role is a slower and bloodier process when business’ needs are ignored, whether the problem be obesity, smoking, guns, automobile safety, or whatever," he wrote. "Time and again, progress has come faster when an industry saw that what was in the public’s best interest was in its own best interest, too. The U.S. auto industry for years fought off activists like Ralph Nader who wanted safer cars. Only when Detroit figured out that paying attention to safety conferred competitive advantages already enjoyed by Volvo, Mercedes and other European automakers did it willingly embrace safety beyond what the government mandated."

Meanwhile, the two largest soda manufacturers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have increased the number of low-sugar/no-sugar drinks they offer. Coca-Cola, for example, in January launched a commercial, called "Coming Together," that included facts about the company's initiatives, including that of more than 650 beverages, the company now offers 180 low- and no-calorie choices.

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