NEJM readers were presented with a case study involving an overweight 12-year-old girl who drinks one or two sugar-sweetened drinks each day, and were asked to choose between two options to deal with the broader issue of childhood obesity. One option backed regulation of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, while the other opposed it.
The journal received 1290 votes from 75 countries, with an average of 68% of readers backing some form of government regulation of sugar-sweetened drinks in order to help tackle obesity. However, the results were skewed by those from the United States, where 58% of readers favoured regulation. In other countries, an average of 84% voted in favour of government intervention.
Citing reader comments, the NEJM said that those opposed to regulation pointed out that sugary drinks were not the only issue contributing to obesity, and wider lifestyle changes were likely to be necessary to change health outcomes.
“Readers opposed to government regulation did not deny the seriousness of the obesity problem or the need for educational interventions aimed at changing behaviour with respect to food consumption. They just disagreed with the concept of legislative restriction of personal choice regarding foods and beverages,” wrote Drs James Colbert and Jonathan Adler in a summary of the survey’s findings.
Meanwhile, many of those in favour of regulation argued that sugar-sweetened beverages had no nutritional value and that poor personal nutrition choices impacted everyone in society through higher public health spending, lost wages and productivity.
The survey results and accompanying commentary are available here .