Last year, Mark Bittman wrote: “Why Do Stars Think It’s O.K. to Sell Soda?” This was in response to Beyonce’s promotion to sell Pepsi. I couldn’t agree more. It is maddening actually. With the current culture being so obsessed with all things celebrity, you would think that actors, musicians, and athletes would use that position, an enormously powerful one, to make positive change. I am not asking celebrities to go all Angelina Jolie on me, but still, get some perspective.
There are currently 2.1 billion people globally who are overweight or obese. That is 1 out of every 4. The globesity pandemic touches everyone including children and teenagers. Obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years and now more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Is soda bad? Well the evidence is pretty cut and dry at this point. Some would argue, and are often “paid” to do so, that soda doesn’t make a dent as a contributor to our waistlines but that is just hogwash. We know three things about soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs such as soda, energy, sports drinks, sweetened teas):
- Serving sizes have increased: Before the 1950s, standard soft-drink bottles were 6.5 ounces. Now, 20-ounce to 42 ounce bottles are the norm.
- People everywhere are drinking more soda: In one decade, calories from sugary beverages increased by 60% in children ages 6 to 11, and sugary drinks (soda, energy, sports drinks) are the top calorie source in teens’ diets. Lovely.
- Soda does contribute to obesity and diabetes: Recent meta-analyses show that higher intake of SSBs among children was associated with 55% higher risk of being overweight or obese compared with those with lower intake. Another meta-analysis showed that one to two servings per day of SSB intake was associated with a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with occasional intake (less than one serving per month). And two large randomized control trials showed that reducing consumption of SSBs significantly decreases weight gain and adiposity in children and adolescents.
Unfortunately, some of the top-selling musicians are clearly not convinced or just don’t care. Instead, they have sold their souls to the soda companies. Not that some scientists are any better. This whole fiasco of soda companies funding science is just beyond me. With all the commoditization of everything on the planet, isn’t there anything that remains pure and of sound truth? Science should remain untouched, unmonetized: an “immunopriveledged” place where you just don’t tamper with evidence. But I digress…
Selling products with saccharin sweet pop music is so ubiquitous in our culture that you can even take quizzes on which celebrity sold Coke or Pepsi. Not sure the point of that but indeed a good time waster.
The 80s saw pop music come to life (and further exploited) through our TV, not just our record players (cassette tapes in those days) thanks in large part to MTV. Commercials or mini videos followed. As an 80s teenager, the first massive star I remember selling soda was Michael Jackson and he took a pretty decent pop song, Billy Jean, and changed its lyrics from “Billy Jean is not my lover” to You’re the Pepsi generation.” Swell. But it all didn’t work out so well for Mike. Remember the hair catching fire incident? Next up. Madonna aka self-proclaimed #rebelheart. Dancing in lingerie in front of burning, Catholic crosses and kissing a black jesus proved to be a bit too racy for Pepsi. Mama mia.
With each decade, the hits and the soda sales just escalated. Britney Spears, Beyonce, One Direction for both Pepsi and Coke (isn’t that a conflict of interest?), and Taylor Swift, to name a few. But Taylor is okay because she promotes diet soda. Taylor – don’t you know about the implications of diet soda on the profile of the microbiome? Sigh…
Most recently, Nas and Drake for Sprite – Obey your thirst. In the ridiculous video below, showing lots of young African American men drinking soda, Drake actually credits Sprite with his success. Boy, that is really sad. I guess your talent didn’t count.
Even the dead cannot RIP. I saw this ad in ‘da Bronx the other day. Who gave Sprite permission to use his image? Biggie’s estate? Is that even legal? I guess hip hop artists have a “history” of selling soda.
What makes this so infuriating is that they are targeting young, African Americans. But African Americans are not untouched by the obesity epidemic and often, suffer significantly more than other races due to poor access to healthy foods, poverty and inequity. Some stats in case you don’t believe me:
- African American adults are nearly 1.5 times as likely to be obese compared with White adults.
- 47.8% of African Americans are obese compared with 32.6% of Whites
- More than 75% of African Americans are overweight or obese compared with 67.2% of Whites
- 35.1% of African American children ages 2 to 19 were overweight, compared with 28.5% percent of White children
#BlackLivesMatter – indeed they do. And if we continue to push junkfood and soda on populations, inequities will continue to persist. Why do you want to do your own people wrong Nas?
Yes, I get it. They make a shitload of money making these commercials. We could equally criticize all the sports players who promote equally unhealthy sugar sweetened beverages (Gatorade etc) and movie stars promoting fine Japanese whiskey, but picking on pop stars is fun. And they earn so much money already. Well, at least if Taylor Swift keeps Apple and Spotify in check. One Direction is the highest grossing band this past year due to touring, which of course is always sponsored by somebody. Do you guys need to sell Toyota, Coke, and everything else that comes along, to sell your songs and get teenagers to come to your concerts?
I am not judging them. Well, maybe I am. I bet they are all great human beings and many have promoted important causes (I better say this or the 1D fans will send me hate mail). One Direction is pushing Action 1 which is getting the young generation to take action and raise their voices to what future they want in the post 2015 development agenda. Commendable. Taylor Swift in her own right is empowering young women #GirlPower! The millennial generation, which Taylor and others are ‘labeled’ as, is really impressive. I know. I teach them every day. What bothers me is the selling of their songs – their “art” – to sell soda. Why? Why? Why? If you have to sell something, can’t you guys try selling kale? Goji berries? Olive oil?
At least think of your fans. You want them to continue buying your records, and going to your shows right? Don’t you want your pre-pubescent and adolescent fans to be healthy? Especially our girls who are particularly vulnerable to obesity, with lifelong repercussions?
We know celebrities care about their own health. They gotta look good with 25million+ twitter followers watching their every move. Most popstars are on special diets, have brutal trainers, do yoga and soul cycle. They probably don’t drink soda or for that matter, consume any sugar. Because well, that is what their personal nutritionist advised them to do…And advice given by “nutritionists to the stars” is ALWAYS of sound scientific evidence (Think Beyonce + Cleanse).
And maybe it is all just a bit unethical to be pushing soda on children? Marketing junk food and soda to children is generally considered pretty immoral in some circles, and wreaks of the same tactics used by tobacco to get kids to smoke. Maybe celebrities need to be held accountable to what they are selling and to who?
Young popstars should take a page from the songbook of Neil Young. Or at least watch “This Notes for You” and his rip on the commercialism of rock and roll.
Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi
Ain’t singin’ for Coke
I don’t sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note’s for you.
Well sung Neil Young.