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    Industry Responds

    The American Beverage Association said in a statement that “everyone has a role to play in obesity levels -- a fact completely ignored in this petition.”

    The industry has been working to increase lower-sugar drink options, such as taking out full-calorie soft drinks from schools, the statement said. It also said that about 45% of all non-alcoholic drinks bought have zero calories and that Americans are getting 37% fewer calories from sugar-sweetened beverages than in 2000.

    Added Sugars vs. Sweeteners

    Jacobson said the CSPI has also asked the FDA to investigate the safety of some of the older artificial sweeteners. The organization recommends drinking flavored waters or newer sweeteners such as sucralose or stevia instead. But he said that despite some data linking the artificial sweetener aspartame to some health problems, "those problems pale compared with the certain problems of what we know coming from the 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle of soft drink."

    Willett added that data linking aspartame to weight gain and diabetes result from "reverse causation," in which being overweight or having diabetes causes people to switch to diet soda, not the other way around. "We've looked at that pretty carefully, in a lot of detail. ... People drinking artificially sweetened beverages do not gain weight [the way] people with full-sugar beverages do."

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