Consumer Food and Nutrition — 17 July 2013

By Richard Lenti

He’s known for his big size and bigger personality, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says retired NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal comes up small when it comes to the marketing of a soda that bears his name.

The beverage in question, “Soda Shaq,” weighs in at nearly 24 ounces, with 270 calories and the equivalent of 17 teaspoons of sugar per can. The consumer advocate group is calling on O’Neal to reconsider whether he wants to promote a product it says contributes to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.

“Clearly, Shaq knows better,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “He has said he avoids soda himself, and worries about obesity and diabetes. But he’s now using his name, face, and reputation to make those health problems even bigger. It’s shameful hypocrisy, presumably motivated by money.”

soda+shaq+hero+IIHIHAriZona Beverages and 7-Eleven introduced the Soda Shaq last month, saying fans “can satisfy their sweet tooth without the guilt,” adding that Shaq will promote the “all natural” drink to their huge social media following of 17 million people on Twitter and Instagram.

They also point out that each serving is only 90 calories. But critics note that each can of “Soda Shaq”  contains three servings and does not come in a reseal-able container. That’s about two to three times as much sugar than the American Heart Association recommends, which is no more than 6 teaspoons for women  and 9 teaspoons for men.

“Given the nation’s persistent and devastating health crisis of obesity and diabetes, I would urge superstar athletes to remember the special responsibility they have as powerful role models to their young fans, especially when it comes to endorsing sugar drinks,” said Dr. Anthony Iton, senior vice president of The California Endowment, a private foundation which focuses on access to health care and prevention of disease.

The American Diabetes Association says nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and another 79 million Americans are considered pre-diabetic. By the year 2050, one in three Americans are expected to have the disease. Approximately two thirds of diabetics eventually die from heart disease or a stroke.

As recently as last year, O’Neal talked with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about his concern over diabetes, and his family members’ struggle with the disease.

“It’s alarming,” said O’Neal. “We as American people need to try to help prevent the issue and stay healthy. There are a lot of healthy alternatives rather than eating candy all the time.” The big man also said he tries to stay away from sodas and candies, but admitted a weakness for brownies.

“Childhood obesity is getting worse. People need to know the problem isn’t going to go away unless we take control now.”

Critics say when it comes to fighting obesity and the deadly toll of diabetes, Shaq needs to put his money where his mouth is, instead of hawking a sugar laden soft drink.

“I’m sure this deal is a financially lucrative arrangement, but in all other respects this is Shaq’s most flagrant personal foul since his cameo in (the film) Freddy Got Fingered,” said Jacobson. The 2001 film was critically panned and is considered one of the worst movies of all time.

“Beverage companies like using sports figures because it links sugary junk drinks like soda with fitness and athletic achievement,” said Iton.  “It helps neutralize concern over obesity, diabetes, and other health problems linked with soda consumption—problems that African Americans happen to suffer from disproportionately.”

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Richard Lenti

Richard Lenti has worked as a news writer for the last 20 years at various television stations in Los Angeles. He is a Golden Mike winner and a graduate of California State University, Fresno. With roots in print journalism, Richard is excited to be “published” once again; having people read his work as opposed to having it read to them. As a freelance writer his work has appeared in the Easy Reader, L.A. Jazz Scene, Irrigation and Green Industry, and the KCAL 9 Online website.

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