by Joe Shea
February 9, 2011
'DO I LOOK LIKE I'M ON A DIET?'
BRADENTON, Fla., Feb. 9, 2011, 9:00 p.m. -- "Do I look like I'm on a diet?" That was invariably my reply when a hostess or waiter asked me if I wanted "diet or regular" at any meal. I'm at least 115 pounds overweight, and yet that snarky response may have saved my life, I learned tonight.
Brian Williams of NBC News sent shock waves across the world an hour and a half ago when he revealed that a 9-year study of 2,564 New Yorkers showed that some had a 61% higher risk of heart attacks and strokes - and other "vascular events," as they call them - because they drink diet instead of regular soda.
The graphic on the Nightly News screen showed Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew and Sunkist Orange, among other labeled bottles and cans. I sometimes drink of all of those - and on rare occasions when there was nothing else, I drank the diet version - but I doubt I've had a gallon of the stuff in my entire lifetime.
With the still-undecided exception of Coke Zero, I hate the taste of diet soda. Besides that, I was once the proud winner of $10 worth of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a plastic skateboard and a "lifetime supply of Blammo Sugarless Gum" - the latter, as a SUNY Stony Brook study showed, sweetened by cancer-causing xylocaine.
Those were the consolation prizes for my 1978 appearance on "The Gong Show" to do a Village Voice piece about the experience. Finding out shortly afterwards that the gum caused cancer was a wake-up call for me, and I avoided anything with the "diet" label ever since.
But my personal history is a grain of sand on a very large beach. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe consume countless tanker-loads of diet soda every day. The evidence of this study - which has not been peer-reviewed, or replicated - is an astonishing revelation. But Brian Williams may have been singlehandedly responsible for saving tens of millions of lives from a premature end tonight.
I have little doubt that the study as reported was carefully done, and I believe it would be a deliberate and tragic avoidance of our responsibility as journalists not to report it. Yet I'm not hearing about it now, even on MSNBC-TV, even though it's a top story on the MSNBC Web site.
There's nothing on the Drudge Report, the online New York Times and Washington Post, or even AP.org, the homepage of the famed wire service. The Wall Street Journal, at 8:36 p.m., has still not picked up a story that could drive two of the top stocks on the NYSE to zero in a day. The Los Angeles Times, however, had an original story online at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, if only because health and healthy foods are an overwhelming concern for many Southern Californians.
They are huge advertisers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and the collective power of the American beverage industry is being felt. It's not clear when and if you are going to learn that the next sip of that diet soda your drink may be the one that kills you - particularly if like me, by virtue of being vulnerable to strokes and heart attacks due to obesity, something else that is widespread in America, or due to diabetes, which excessive sugar consumption may cause and diet sodas presumably would help us avoid - but kill us, anyway.
I watched the NYSE ticker scrawl after hours from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) - which itself is in the big news due to a proposed merger with Germany's Frankfurt Exchange - and saw no indication of selling in either stock. How could that be? In fact, diet soda may outsell regular soda for the first time this year, after regular soda's sales fell 1% and diet-soda sales continued their steady rise.
Our American media, with the certain exception of the American Reporter, is very slow to attribute important stories to rival publications. We at AR weigh only the value of the story to the readers, and if it embarrasses us or not, we link to it as soon as we possibly can. That's what we did tonight when the diet soda story broke.
But it's not at all embarrassing to publish a link to another news organization's story when it is a matter of life and death - a vital matter of health - for readers. And not everything we immediately link to has to rise to that threshold of importance; we are no paragons of virtue, and I am not. Given our limitations of cash and personnel, there are only a few major stories we can cover firsthand. But this one of them.
So we urge our readers, until something better comes along, I invite you to borrow my response when you hear those words, "diet or regular?"
Or, you might also try, "Do I look suicidal?"
Write Joe Shea at email@example.com.