Fans of conservative scientific outrage and the railing against senseless Obama administration-backed spending therein, have no fear: We've got the early word on a study recently funded by the National Institutes of Health that might just hit your sweet spot—if you want to ignore the actual facts, data, and reality behind it. Readying itself for the inevitable response that bedeviled previous NIH-funded research on obese lesbians (and obese straight men) and that infamous "shrimp on a treadmill" story (a.k.a. an irresponsible government spending fable or Senator Tom Coburn's favorite stump speech) is this project from Anisha Indravadan Patel at the University of California, San Francisco, entitled "Increasing Water Intake In Lieu of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages among Latino Youth." The study's initial project information report reads:
This issue is of particular significance among Latino youth as they are more likely to drink SSBs and less likely to drink tap water than White and Asian children. To date, few interventions have focused on increasing water intake among children and there have been no interventions that have focused on increasing tap water intake among Latino children.
Soda! Water! Cue the coverage of government spending in a time of sequester — and possibly some race-baiting photos to accompany said coverage. (Remember the unflattering Rosie O'Donnell pictures in that obese lesbian study?). But — now, now — let's take a few minutes to study this study with a little pre-emptive explaining, and important things to remember before everybody freaks out:
Obesity Is a Big, Fat American Problem. Do we really need to go into this? As the CDC points out, 35.7 percent of adult Americans are obese. Obesity rates in the Mexican-American population (40.4 percent) and among Americans of Latino descent (39.1 percent) are higher than the national average, and if you look at the latest Census data, 52 million people who identify as Hispanic live in the United States — that's a little over 16 percent of the population.
We Know That Soda Isn't Good for You. Before you get all Bloomberg-bashy, researchers from Harvard have recently estimated that soda and sugar-sweetened drinks are responsible for 180,000 deaths worldwide per year. And, as Mayor Bloomberg himself will tell you, studies and research spanning decades and tens of thousands of Americans has found a link between soda and obesity.
We Know That Big Soda Purposely Companies Targets Latinos. "Hispanic teens were exposed to 99% more ads than their white counterparts," reads a report from The New York Daily News, on the finding of a Yale study examining how soda and beverage companies target minorities. And New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss, in an excerpt from his new book on the marketing of snacks and sugar-based foods, recounts the story of fired Coca-Cola executive Jeffrey Dunn, who on frequent trips to South America saw an increase in marketing to drive more bottles into more bodies, no matter the health or poverty costs: "A voice in my head says, 'These people need a lot of things, but they don't need a Coke.' I almost threw up."
And We Know Latino Kids Are More Likely to Drink Soda Than White Kids: A CDC study from June 2011 found as much:
During the 7 days before the survey, 24.3% of high school students nationwide drank a serving of regular soda or pop, 16.1% drank a serving of a sports drink, and 16.9% drank a serving of another SSB daily [...] For all three types of drinks, black students were more likely than white students and Hispanic students to report daily consumption. In addition, Hispanic students were more likely than white students to drink sports drinks daily.
All that said, let's take a minute to think about this. If a company is intentionally and specifically targeting a set of consumers and children with a product that isn't good for their health — which isn't unlike the continued knock against cigarettes — wouldn't you want someone to study that and the addiction? Never mind that these consumers make up a large part of the American population.
Now, we understand that the NIH spent $30,000 paying for the new UCSF project in an initial round of funding in September 2012, and that that's not exactly chump change to normal people, and that the initial round runs out in July 2013 while the project's research is scheduled to continue through two more cycles, into July 2015. We get that if the first 10 months cost $30,000, the tally could run — at that rate, and assuming these grant requests even go through — to a total somewhere over $100,00 across the life span of the research. But you have to keep in mind that the NIH spent an estimated $829 million on funding obesity projects in 2012. The $30,000 being spent on this study so far is around 0.003 percent of that budget, which isn't exactly breaking the bank to try and get a better understanding of a major health problem in this country. But, you know, soda!