color aluminum drink cans piled

A while back I received a letter from a soft drink maker. It sought to explain how soft drinks could be part of a healthy balanced diet. It also suggested that diet soft drinks were something doctors could mention to patients wanting to lose weight.

As a doctor I get a truckload of letters and they all go pretty much straight into the bin. In addition to lots of junk mail from the pharmaceutical industry, there is a growing trend for all sorts of industry groups and assorted advocates writing to doctors seeking “support”.

I hadn’t thought any more about it till the letter made the news. It was suggested that the company had somehow done the right thing in writing to doctors. Interestingly the mailing list the company used came from an arm of the Australian Medical Association who, according to a newspaper article claimed doctors were “incensed” about the letter.

Anyone who gets that hot under the collar about a blatant advertisement needs a cold shower.

Regular readers will know my views on sugary drinks and low calorie versions. If you are thirsty the best drink is water. However for a treat when you go out or once every couple of weeks there is nothing wrong with a soft drink if that is your taste.

To that extent they can be part of a “healthy balanced diet”.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly the company is selling a legal product. Hence suggestions that the mail out should not have occurred are wrong. It is not the role of the AMA or anyone else to censor what doctors can read. I am capable of reading an ad and forming a view as to the worth of its content.

The second aspect, which is implied but not stated, is that doctors are so stupid that a single letter will turn them into advocates for diet soft drinks. It is fair to say that medical opinions can be swayed and big pharma specializes in this. But the soft drink industry has a LONG way to go before they reach that level of sophistication. I am not expecting to be invited to a conference by a soft drink rep anytime soon.

When I last checked Australia was still (just) a free country. This means that people, groups and companies are free to express opinions and promote what they do. Not all products are suitable for all people and not all views are widely held or even palatable. However they can be held and in most instances expressed.

The noise around a simple marketing pitch reflects the broader problem of political correctness. Because health authorities do not approve of soft drinks then the manufacturers should not be allowed to promote them. This attack on the letter to doctors is part of a wider attempt to restrict advertising of soft drinks.

It misses the problem entirely.

Nobody ever became overweight because of an ad. If people consume excess energy, be it from sugary drinks or other sources they will become overweight. This is not because of lack of awareness. It is a choice made on the basis of taste being more important than calorie intake.

We are all exposed to the same media and the same messages. How we respond to them differs. 

Our health will always be a reflection of our priorities and the choices we make.