TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. How do you frighten political strongmen? Teach journalism.

By Thomas Fiedler in the Conversation

2. Far from policing free will, taxes on sugary drinks make sense in the context of subsidies for corn syrup and the Medicaid and Medicare expense of 29 million Americans with diabetes.

By Kenneth Davis and Ronald Tamler in the Huffington Post

3. Palm oil production has a devastating impact on the environment, but smart science and better farming could reduce the harm.

By Michael Kodas in Ensia

4. We shouldn’t let Ebola panic squelch civil liberties.

By Erwin Chemerinsky in the Orange County Register

5. What we learn from video games: Giving military robots controls like “Call of Duty” could save lives on the (real) battlefield.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Aging

16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

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Try these surprising habits that could help you live longer

The average American’s life expectancy is 78.7 years. Whether you reach that age—or better yet, exceed it—largely depends on your genes, but there are also many keys to longevity that are totally within your control. Some you probably already know about, like following a nutritious diet, exercising often, staying away from cigarettes, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other habits are a little less obvious. Read on for some surprising habits and lifestyle choices that could add years to your life.

Adopt a furry friend

Your four-legged companion may be helping you live a longer life, according to a review published in the journal Circulation. Researchers believe owning a dog might keep the owner more active and, as a result, lowers the risk of heart disease.

“Dog owners are who walk their dogs are more likely to meet recommendations for daily physical activity (150 minutes weekly),” says Eric A. Goedereis, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Webster University in St. Louis, MO. Owning a pet also reduces stress, which may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, he adds.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways Pets Improve Your Health

Have more sex

A roll in the hay may be the most pleasant way to extend your life. Several studies suggest there is a link between more orgasms and longevity. In a 1997 study, men who had more orgasms were less likely to die of heart disease than those who had less. While the study can’t prove cause and effect (maybe healthier people are more likely to have sex), sex can be beneficial for health. “Of course sex feels good, but it also gives us the opportunity to work out nearly every muscle in the body and connect with another person,” says Goedereis. “Sex has also been shown to boost the body’s immune response, reduce stress, and even control one’s appetite, among other things.” Two to three orgasms a week yields best benefits. Doctor’s orders.

HEALTH.COM:
13 Healthy Reasons to Have More Sex

Floss every day

Daily flossing not only gets rid of food trapped between your teeth but also removes the film of bacteria that forms before it has a chance to harden into plaque—something your toothbrush cannot do. Periodontal disease from lack of flossing can trigger low-grade inflammation, which increases the risk of early heart attack and stroke. Numerous studies link oral bacteria to cardiovascular disease. The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day.

Have a positive attitude

Think being mean and ornery is what it takes to live to 100? That’s what scientists at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the Bronx, New York thought until they studied 243 centenarians. When the researchers assessed their personalities, they discovered that most had a positive outlook on life, and were generally easygoing, optimistic, and full of laughter.

If nothing else, try to laugh more often—go to comedy shows, take occasional breaks at work to watch silly videos on YouTube, or spend time with people who make you smile. “Laughter helps decrease blood pressure, reduce blood sugars, dull pain, and lower stress, all of which can make your body healthier,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love.

Be social

Going to the movies or out for coffee with friends may help all of you grow old together. An analysis by Brigham Young University looked at data from 148 studies and found a clear connection between social ties and lifespan. “People with stronger social relationships have a 50% greater chance of continued living as compared to those with weaker relationships,” says Lombardo. “Loneliness can also compromise your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Go nuts

Snack on cashews, sprinkle chopped walnuts on your salad, stir almonds into your yogurt—however you eat them, it may be helpful. People who ate nuts several times a week had a reduced mortality risk compared with those who ate nuts less frequently (or at all), according to a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study.

Nuts are high in antioxidants, fiber, and unsaturated fatty acids, and they help lower your risk of heart disease. “They are known to possibly improve certain risk factors for diabetes as well,” says Keri Gans, RD, a New York-based nutrition consultant. As a healthy but high-calorie snack, limit portion sizes to 1 ounce, or about 20 nuts.

Find your purpose

Regardless of your age, finding purpose in life may help you live long enough to make a difference. In a study of 6,000 people, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York found that people who had a greater sense of purpose were less likely to die during the 14-year study than those who were less focused on a goal. “People who have a sense of purpose in their lives may be more likely to take steps to be healthier,” says Lombardo. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you are making at work or at home instead of getting caught up with every little detail being perfect, she suggests.

Start your mornings with coffee

Sipping a mug of coffee not only jumpstarts your day, but your longevity as well. Studies show coffee reduces the risk of a number of chronic diseases. “Drinking coffee may decrease your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gans. Just go easy: too much caffeine can trigger anxiety and insomnia, or interfere with calcium absorption. And hold the whipped toppings like syrups and cream to avoid canceling out the health benefits.

Snooze soundly

Quality of sleep also plays in role in how long you may live. Multiple studies have linked sleep deprivation with an increased risk of death, and other research has shown that a lack of shuteye may raise risk of type 2 diabetes. “Some people may need more or less sleep than others, but research suggests that seven hours is probably enough,” says Goedereis. To sleep soundly, establish a nighttime routine and stick to a schedule, even on weekends.

See the glass as half full

An Illinois study found clear evidence that happy people experience better health and live longer than their unhappy peers. “Depression, pessimism, and stress predict shorter lifespans,” says Lombardo. “These mental states tend to cause a stress reaction within the body, which can weaken the immune system. Happiness, on the other hand, tends to result in less stress hormones.” Take time to experience gratitude every day. “It’s one of the quickest and longest-lasting ways to boost happiness,” she adds.

Ditch soda

Even if you’re not overweight, drinking soda may be shortening your lifespan, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. The five-year study found a link between soda intake and shortening of the telomeres, which are caps on the ends of chromosomes directly linked to aging. Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides and are thought to be an aging “clock.” This study did not find the same link with diet soda, but other research has associated heavy diet soda drinking to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and depression—all potential life-shorteners.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Have a little bit of wine every day

Drinking a little less than one glass of wine a day is linked to a lower rate of cardiovascular death from all causes when compared to abstaining from all alcohol, according to a Dutch study. Researchers found that light alcohol consumption resulted in longer life expectancy at age 50. Drinking less than or equal to 20 grams per day of alcohol (that’s a little less than a serving of beer, wine, or spirits) was associated with a 36% lower risk of all causes of death and a 34% lower risk of cardiovascular death. And sorry, beer and cocktail fans: the same results were not found with light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types.

Run 5 minutes a day

No need to run for an hour a day to reap the life-lengthening benefits. A new study shows running just 5 to 10 minutes a day increases your life expectancy by reducing the risk of death from heart disease by 58% and dropping the overall risk of death by 28%. It holds true even if you’re a slowpoke. Those who ran at less than 6 miles per hour only once or twice a week experienced clear benefits, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers credit better lung and heart function with the extended lifespan. Consistency works best, however: Exercisers who ran regularly for an average of six years reaped the greatest benefits.

Eat lots of fish

A diet heavy in omega-3-rich foods may add years to your life, says a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study of more than 2,600 adults, those with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids—found in salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and lake trout—lived more than two years longer on average than those with lower blood levels. The study didn’t prove that being a fish-eater increases longevity, but suggests a connection. Researchers found that people with high omega-3 levels reduced their overall risk of death by any cause by up to 27% compared to those with the lowest levels, and that they had a 35% lower risk of dying from heart disease. Experts recommend at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week.

Stop sitting so much

Simply stand up more during the day and you’ll boost your longevity by increasing the length of your telomeres, according to a study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study measured the effects of sitting time and physical activity among 49 sedentary, overweight participants. Researchers found increased telomere length—end caps of chromosomes that link directly to longevity—in the red blood cells of individuals participating in a 6-month physical activity intervention.

Volunteer

Helping others not only feels good, it may help you live longer, too. A review of data from 40 published papers found a 20% lower risk of death than non-volunteers. The findings, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that those who volunteered experienced lower levels of depression, better life satisfaction, and overall enhanced wellbeing. Another study found that retirees who volunteered at least 200 hours in the prior year were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers, lowering their risk of heart disease. Lend a hand for a win-win result.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME 2014 Election

Big Soda Fights Bay Area Tax Proposals

Sugary Drinks
A shelf of soft drinks are shown in a refrigerator at K & D Market in San Francisco, on Oct. 1, 2014. Jeff Chiu—AP

The beverage industry has spent more than $10 million to persuade the liberal enclaves Berkeley and San Francisco to vote against taxing sugary soda on Nov. 4

If not here, where? On Tuesday, voters in the progressive California cities of Berkeley and San Francisco will decide on whether to tax sugar-heavy beverages like soda. Similar measures have failed in dozens of other cities, including reliably blue New York, and the association representing beverage giants like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo has donated more than $10 million to defeat the Bay Area levies. Players on both sides of the fight say that if taxing soda fails to win enough support in these liberal enclaves, it’s hard to imagine where else in the nation it could succeed.

“It’s important because it’s a first step,” says Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli, one of the unanimous votes in favor of putting the tax on the Nov. 4 ballot. “There’s a serious public health issue that needs to be addressed.”

Advocates for the taxes tout research linking sugar consumption to conditions like obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Some studies have shown that raising the price of sugary beverages causes sales to go down. In a 2013 study, Harvard researchers found that increasing the price of a 20 oz. soda by 20 cents led to a 16% sales drop.

Food policy writer Michael Pollan, a professor at the University of California—Berkeley who has endorsed the city’s measure, wants Berkeley to be a sort of pilot program. “I’m eager to see this experiment perform. We haven’t had a chance to see if taxing soda will reduce consumption because the industry has fought it so ferociously,” he says. “We need to try everything … I think there are still a lot of people out there who haven’t gotten the message that soda is bad for you.”

In Berkeley, Measure D would impose a one-cent-per-oz. tax on distributors of sugary drinks. If that tax was passed onto consumers, as the opposition argues it almost certainly will be, a $1.99 bottle of Coke at a Walgreen’s in Berkeley would cost $2.19. In San Francisco, Proposition E could institute a two-cent-per-oz. tax. Though the shorthand for the measures highlights soda, the taxes would apply to all high-calorie, sugary drinks. In San Francisco’s proposal, that means any beverage that contains added sugar and 25 or more calories per 12 oz.

Lower-income consumers, who both drink more soda and are more likely to be obese, have been at the center of the debate. San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, who supports the tax, says that education about the potential dangers of excessive sugar consumption has not been enough of a deterrent. He and other advocates hope that the levy will help push consumers to choose healthier beverages, reducing soda consumption and, hopefully, improving people’s health.

Critics of the measures see the taxes as another form of government intrusion into personal behavior. “When the government decides they want to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be eating, where does it end?” asks Roger Salazar, the spokesman for campaigns opposing both soda taxes. “Do they decide at some point that eating too many burgers is bad for you, so all burgers are going to be taxed?”

The campaign against the San Francisco tax has raised $9.1 million, while the Berkeley equivalent has raised $2.4 million. In both cases, almost all the money has come from the American Beverage Association’s political action committee.

Since no U.S. municipality has adopted a soda tax, it is not known how it would affect beverage sales. Ads opposing the taxes have made the case that the measures would lead to a drop in revenue for small businesses like convenience stores. Wiener calls that fear spurious. “If people drink less sugary drinks, they’re not going to stop drinking or buying drinks,” he says. “They’re just going to buy different drinks.” As evidence, he points to Mexico, where sales of high-calorie beverages dropped after a similar tax was instituted in January, while sales of low-calorie beverages and consumption of water increased.

The tax may stand a better chance of passing in Berkeley, partly because it will require only a majority of votes. Even the beverage association’s Salazar admits the political reality of the college town with a proud activist history. “Berkeley is an eclectic city. It’s different,” he says, “unlike any other city in California.”

The odds are tougher in San Francisco. Because the measure earmarks proceeds for health and nutrition programs, rather than going into the city’s general fund, two-thirds of voters must back the measure for it to pass. Wiener says they made the decision to set that higher bar after polling showed stronger support for a soda tax with revenue dedicated to the same cause behind the levy: promoting better habits.

To some tax supporters, even the debate around the issue is a win. Soda consumption has been slightly declining since 2005, and Pollan credits ballot measures like this one for creating awareness and making people think twice before they start swilling. “If [the tax proposal] fails, it could drive a stake in the heart of these efforts, at least for a while,” he says. “But even when these fights lose, they succeed in pointing the finger at soda as a problem.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

4 Foods That May Shorten Your Life

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Some foods could actually hurt your chances of growing older

Everyone wants to know the secret to living longer. There’s no telling what exactly helps some people make it to 100, but healthy eating is one thing that sure does help.

Some foods, though, could actually hurt your chances of growing older by messing with components in your cells called telomeres. These little caps on the ends of your chromosomes are key for protecting DNA from damage—many experts compare them to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Everyday Habits That Are Aging You

Thing is, as your cells replicate, telomeres get shorter over time, according to the University of Utah Health Sciences. As telomeres shorten it can trigger cells to malfunction and die, and shorter telomeres have been linked to conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Research has also shown lifestyle factors including diet can speed up (or slow down) the shortening process, which is sometimes thought of as an “aging clock.”

These four foods can contribute to telomere shortening, so it might be best to limit these eats for a long and healthy life.

Soda

Sugary soda is bad news for telomeres. A recent study of 5,309 adults in the American Journal of Public Health found that a daily 20-ounce serving of soda was associated with 4.6 more years of aging. To put that in perspective, it’s the same amount of aging researchers have linked to smoking. Drinking an 8-ounce soda daily had a smaller impact: it was linked to an additional 1.9 years of aging. While the researchers didn’t find a tie between telomeres and non-sugary diet soda, it might not be any better for you. Research shows that drinking diet soda daily is associated with a 67% greater risk of type 2 diabetes. And artificial sweeteners can increase sugar cravings, too.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Processed meat

Another no-no for telomeres is processed meat, like hot dogs and pepperoni. A 2008 study of 840 people in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effect multiple food groups had on telomere length. Researchers found that people who consumed one or more servings of processed meat each week had shorter telomeres than those who didn’t eat any processed meat.

Red meat

Higher intake of red meat, like hamburgers and steak, has long been associated with heart disease and cancer, and that could be tied to its effect on telomeres. For a study in Clinical Nutrition, rats were fed varying diets of beef or chicken for four weeks. More red meat in the rats’ diet was linked to decreased telomere length in colon cells. Similar findings were shown for the white meat, though red meat had a greater effect. The good news: diets that included resistant starch, a good carb that helps you burn fat, weakened the effect red meat had on telomeres. More reason to fill up on foods rich in resistant starch, including bananas and lentils.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Ways to Age in Reverse

Alcohol

Like red meat, alcohol also gets a bad rap for its connection to chronic health conditions. A study presented at the 2010 American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting found alcohol can speed up telomere shortening, too. Researchers looked at the serum DNA of individuals who abused alcohol (22% had four or more drinks per day) and those with more moderate alcohol use. Telomeres were dramatically shorter in those who drank heavily. In fact, they were half as long as the telomeres of non-abusers (0.41 vs. 0.79 relative units), so it’s a good idea to be mindful of how much you drink.

HEALTH.COM: How Alcohol Affects Your Body

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Soda May Age You as Much as Smoking, Study Says

The link between soda and telomere length

Nobody would mistake sugary soda for a health food, but a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health just found that a daily soda habit can age your immune cells almost two years.

Senior study author Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco, wanted to look at the mechanisms behind soda’s storied link to conditions like diabetes, heart attack, obesity, and even higher rates of death. She studied telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes in every cell in our body, from white blood cells. Shorter telomeres have been linked to health detriments like shorter lifespans and more stress, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, the study notes.

Epel and her team analyzed data from 5,309 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from about 14 years ago. They found that people who drank more sugary soda tended to have shorter telomeres. Drinking an 8-ounce daily serving of soda corresponded to 1.9 years of additional aging, and drinking a daily 20-ounce serving was linked to 4.6 more years of aging. The latter, the authors point out, is exactly the same association found between telomere length and smoking.

Only the sugary, bubbly stuff showed this effect. Epel didn’t see any association between telomere length and diet soda intake. “The extremely high dose of sugar that we can put into our body within seconds by drinking sugared beverages is uniquely toxic to metabolism,” she says.

She also didn’t see a significant link between non-carbonated sugary beverages, like fruit juice, which Epel says surprised her. But she thinks the results might be different if the data were more modern. “We think that the jury’s still out on sugared beverages—theoretically they’re just as bad,” she says. “But 14 years ago people were drinking a lot less sugared beverages…they were mostly drinking soda.” At the time of the study, 21% of adults in the study reported consuming 20 ounces or more of sugar-sweetened soda each day, but soda consumption has been on the decline for years.

Telomere length dwindles naturally as we age, but it may not be an irreversible process. Previous research shows that it’s possible to increase telomere length by as much as 10% over 5 years by stressing less and eating a healthy diet—no soda included.

Read next: Here’s How to Stop Teens From Drinking Soda

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s How to Stop Teens From Drinking Soda

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When kids learn how far they’d have to walk to burn off the calories in a soda, they tend to buy smaller sizes or stop buying it altogether, suggests a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed more than 3,000 drink purchases by children ages 7 to 18 at stores in low-income Baltimore neighborhoods and found that sugary drinks accounted for 98% of the beverages kids bought. But when researchers put up colorful signs with calorie information, that figure dropped to 89%. The most effective sign was the one that said it would take a five-mile walk to burn off the calories in the drink. Researchers argue that while laws already require beverage manufacturers to post caloric information, calorie numbers may not mean all that much to many consumers. More practical information, including statistics about how long it will take to burn calories, is easier to grasp.

“This is a very low-cost way to get children old enough to make their own purchases to drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, and they appear to be effective even after they are removed,” says study author Sara N. Bleich, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.

MORE: The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and energy drinks contribute significantly to a number of public health ailments that harm children, including obesity. In low-income communities the problem is especially rampant: Sugary drink consumption accounts for about 15% of a minority adolescent’s caloric intake, more than twice the recommended quantity. Interventions like this might help decrease that disparity.

“People don’t really understand what it means to say a typical soda has 250 calories,” says Bleich. “If you’re going to give people calorie information, there’s probably a better way to do it.”

Read next: The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

TIME Food & Drink

Do-It-Yourself Soda Making Fad Appears to Be Fizzling

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SodaStream is struggling to get more U.S. consumers to buy at-home soda machines

Is the at-home soda making trend about to go pop?

The latest sales warning from SodaStream appears to indicate the market is facing some challenges.

The at-home soda maker warned investors Tuesday it hasn’t had much success attracting new customers to buy its beverage carbonation systems, raising further questions about if that trend is fizzling out in the U.S.

The company warned it expects third-quarter revenue of about $125 million, a roughly 14% drop from last year’s level and far below the $154.4 million projected by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Chief Executive Daniel Birnbaum said while the company had successfully built a solid base of “repeat users” in the U.S., it hasn’t won over enough new converts.

That problem has been evident for a while. SodaStream, which has reported sharply higher annual sales for years as more and more consumers turn to at-home soda making, appears to have hit a wall in the U.S. Soda maker sales in that region slumped 69% in the first quarter and were down 55% in the second quarter of 2014 from last year’s levels. SodaStream in the second quarter had warned the region was problematic, hurt by retailers carrying too much inventory, though the company has said its customers that already own the machines remain active.

Birnbaum said the company would move to shift SodaStream marketing toward promoting health and wellness, primarily in the U.S., where it believes that message would resonate more with consumers.

The downward sales at SodaStream likely reflect changing attitudes among Americans when it comes to soda. Sales of carbonated soft drinks have been falling for years, with the rate of decline worsening of late as consumers turn to juices, flavored waters and other beverage options they deem healthier and generally with fewer calories.

SodaStream is also about to face some steep competitive pressures. Keurig Green Mountain and Coca-Cola have joined forces to develop soft drinks and other cold beverages for a new at-home system, due to hit shelves this fall. But as SodaStream’s results indicate, efforts to give consumers an opportunity to make their own soda at home might not give the industry the pop it needs.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME

The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

Production Inside A Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. Plant
Empty Coca-Cola Classic cans move along a conveyor to be filled and sealed at a Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. production facility in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

Agreeing to decrease soda consumption by 20 percent is easy to do when demand is already falling rapidly

The recent pledge by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to reduce calories that Americans consumd from their products by 20 percent by 2025 elicited torrents of praise from the Global Clinton Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the national press.

The real news: soda companies are at last admitting their role in obesity.

Nevertheless, the announcement caused many of us in the public health advocacy community to roll our eyes. Once again, soda companies are making promises that are likely to be fulfilled anyway, whether the companies take any action or not.

Americans have gotten the word. Sodas in anything but small amounts are not good for health.

Although Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association have funded studies that invariably find sodas innocent of health effects, the vast preponderance of research sponsored by the government or foundations clearly demonstrates otherwise.

Think of sodas as candy in liquid form. They contain astonishing amounts of sugars. A 12-ounce soda contains 10 (!) teaspoons of sugar and provides about 150 calories.

It should surprise no one that adults and children who habitually consume sugary drinks are far more likely to take in fewer nutrients, to weigh more, and to exhibit metabolic abnormalities compared to those who abstain or drink only small amounts.

And, contrary to expectation, diet sodas don’t seem to help. A widely publicized recent study suggests that artificially sweetened drinks affect intestinal bacteria in ways, as yet undetermined, that lead to metabolic abnormalities–glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This research is largely animal-based, preliminary, and requires confirmation. But one thing about diet drinks is clear: they do not do much good in preventing obesity.

People who drink diet sodas tend to be more obese than those who do not. The use of artificial sweeteners in the United States has gone up precisely in parallel with the rise in prevalence of obesity. Is this a cause or an effect? We don’t know yet.

While scientists are trying to sort all this out, large segments of the public have gotten the message: stay away from sodas of any kind.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. per capita consumption of soft drinks has dropped by about 20 percent. If current trends continue, the soda industry should have no trouble meeting its promise of another 20 percent reduction by 2025.

Americans want healthier drinks and are switching to bottled water, sports drinks, and vitamin-fortified drinks—although not nearly at replacement levels. The soda industry has to find ways to sell more products. It also has to find ways to head off regulation. Hence: the promises.

To deal with sales shortfalls, the leading soft-drink brands, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have expanded their marketing overseas. They have committed to invest billions to make and promote their products in Latin America as well as in the hugely populated countries of Asia and Africa where soda consumption is still very low.

From a public health standpoint, people everywhere would be healthier—perhaps a lot healthier—drinking less soda.

In California, the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley have placed soda tax initiatives on the November ballot. The American Beverage Association, the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and the like, is funding anti-tax campaigns that involve not only television advertising and home mailings, but also creation of ostensibly grassroots (“astroturf”) community organizations, petition campaigns, and, when all else fails, lawsuits to make sure the initiative fails. These efforts are carbon copies of the tactics used to defeat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s portion size cap proposal.

If the soda industry really wants to help prevent obesity, it needs to change its current practices. It should stop fighting tax and size initiatives, stop opposing warning labels on sugary drinks, stop lobbying against restrictions on sodas in schools, stop using sports and music celebrities to sell products to children, stop targeting marketing to African-American and Hispanic young people, and stop funding research studies designed to give sodas a clean bill of health.

And it should stop complaining, as PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi did last week, that nobody is giving the industry credit for all the good it is doing.

If the government really were serious about obesity prevention, it could ban vending machines from schools, set limits on the size of soft drinks sold at school events, define the amount of sugars allowable in foods and beverages, and, most of all, stop soda marketing aimed at children of any age.

Because neither the soda industry nor the government is likely to do any of this, public health advocates still have plenty of work to do.

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. She is currently working on a book titled Soda! From Food Advocacy to Public Health.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY The Economy

8 Ways the American Consumer May Have Already Peaked

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Statistics suggest that American consumers may have hit "peak diaper"—for babies anyway. Joseph Pollard—Getty Images

The U.S. economy relies on robust consumer spending. But it's starting to look like Americans have had enough of some products.

Have you heard of “Peak Car”? That’s the idea that there’s a point at which total car ownership and miles driven will start declining. Given the questions about whether or not millennials want cars, as well as data showing that Americans have been driving less for a wide variety of reasons, some analysts believe that we’ve already hit Peak Car in the U.S.

And cars may not be the only thing that’s peaked. Here’s a look at a several seemingly disparate areas where U.S. consumers may be topping out.

Peak Car
The case for this one is controversial. Auto sales have been on the rebound since the Great Recession, sometimes growing by more than one million sales from year to year. After a hot summer for sales, 2014 is on pace for perhaps 16.5 to 17 million new vehicle purchases in the U.S. Then again, after months of heavy promotions and discounting, some experts believe the market is bound to slump toward the end of 2014, and few think that the tally will match the all-time high of 17.4 million sales in 2000.

Globally, some analysts predict that car ownership and usage will peak sometime in the next decade, while the Economist has theorized that Peak Car “still seems quite a long way off” because demand for cars in developing countries is expected to be strong for decades, and also because self-driving features will become mainstream. That means driving will be safer and insurance will cost less, drawing more people onto the roads.

Peak Casino
For years, there’s been talk about reaching a saturation point for casinos, in which gambling expands so widely that too many casinos are chasing the business of the same pool of customers willing to roll the dice and pull the arms of slot machines. The effects of such a situation are on display in Atlantic City, N.J., where one-quarter of the casinos opened at the beginning of 2014 are now closed. Two more casinos in Mississippi closed this year, and analysts are questioning whether markets such as the Baltimore area—which now hosts two casinos, and which has been blamed as a contributor to the falloff in gambling in Atlantic City—are big enough to keep local gaming interests afloat.

New casinos are still planned for Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, yet based on the number of casino closings and data indicating that overall slot revenues in North America are on pace to be down nearly 30% this year, it looks like there are already too many casinos in the marketplace battling to survive. “In many jurisdictions, gaming supply has increased while demand for the product has not, resulting in a state of market disequilibrium,” a post at the asset-based lending site ABL Advisor explained. “There is no simpler way for me to make this point.”

Peak Golf
Between 1986 and 2005, more than 4,500 new golf courses were opened in the U.S., including as many as 400 in a single year. Over the next six years, however, there was a net reduction of 500 courses, with 155 courses closing in 2012. Golf participation and golf sales are likewise plummeting for a variety of reasons: Ppeople are too busy, the sport just might be too hard, too expensive, or too uncool. And projections call for roughly 150 course closings and no more than 20 course openings in the years ahead. In other words, golf most likely peaked in the U.S. in 2005.

Peak Fast Food
The American appetite for pizza appears to have reached an all-time high around 2012, when one survey found that 40% of consumers noshed on pizza at least once a week. The food and beverage consultant firm Technomic noted in early 2014 that pizza consumption has “decreased just slightly over the past two years, likely peaking post-recession due to pizza’s ability to satisfy cravings and meet needs for value.” Foot traffic at Pizza Hut and other quick-serve pizza chains has been on the decline. For that matter, Businessweek recently made the case that the U.S. may also be reaching “Peak Burger.” The growth of franchises for fast food giants such as Burger King and McDonald’s has slowed significantly in recent years, with net openings close to zero.

Data from a new report from the NPD Group indicates that visits to low-cost quick-service restaurants, where the average customer bill is about $5, has been flat over the past year, and for the most part, income inequality and stagnant wages among the middle classes are to blame. “Low-income consumers, who are heavier users of quick service restaurants, were most adversely affected by the Great Recession and have less discretionary income to spend on dining out,” the study explains.

Peak Soda
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group may have together just pledged to reduce calories by 20% in sugary beverages, but the effort appears unlikely to bring American soda consumption back to the heights of a decade or so ago. Per-capita consumption of soda fell 16% between 1998 and 2011, and in 2013, total volume sales of soda was measured at 8.9 billion cases, the lowest total since 1995. Part of the long-term decline has been attributed to Americans wanting to cut calories and have more nutritious diets, but diet soda sales have been tanking lately too.

Peak Fashion
In 1991, the average American purchased 40 garments of clothing annually, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal. Clothing consumption took off from there, reaching an average of 69 articles bought in 2005, which appears to have been the peak. In 2013, American consumers had gotten their clothing purchases down to an average of 63.7 garments per year.

Peak Diapers (for Babies)
The U.S. birth rate declined 8% during the recession-era years 2007 to 2010, and just kept on falling thereafter, reaching a record low (thus far) in 2013. Considering that U.S. births peaked in 2007, it shouldn’t be a surprise that diaper sales in the U.S. have retreated since then as well.

What’s especially interesting is that as baby diaper sales have declined, industry giants like Procter & Gamble have stepped up efforts to sell adult diapers and other incontinence products to make up for the decline at the other end of the market.

Peak Median Income
Lots of these peaks are just challenges for specific industries. But here’s one that might worry any consumer-based business: People can’t spend more if they aren’t earning more.

In 1999, median household income in the U.S. was $56,895 in today’s dollars (after adjusting for inflation), according to census data cited by New York magazine. That was the highest it’s ever been. Lately, the middle-of-the-road household income in America has been $51,939. Given increased automation of the workforce and the rise of income inequality across the board, it may very well be that the median household will never be able to party like it’s 1999.

TIME Obesity

Why Cutting Soda Calories Isn’t Such a Sweet Idea

soda
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Civil rights and soda might not seem like a classic combination. But yesterday, as major soda brands announced their goal to reduce beverage calories in the American diet, it seemed to make sense to Wendy Clark, president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing for Coca-Cola North America.

“‘The time is always right to do the right thing’ – MLK” she tweeted. “So proud of our industry.”

That time will come in 2025, the year by which every American will drink 20% fewer soda calories than they do today. In the press release about the announcement, which was made at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple vowed to make these reductions in part by making containers smaller, as well as focusing marketing efforts and innovation into lower-calorie drinks, no-calorie drinks and water. In the release, President Bill Clinton called the pledge a “critical step in our ongoing fight against obesity.”

But are such premature congratulations merited? Is developing more low- and no-calorie bottled beverages really the way to fight obesity?

Soda consumption has dropped, with sales lower than they have been since 1995. And while we might like to think sippers are swapping soda for water or unsweetened herbal tisane, research shows they’re not. A Pediatrics study published earlier this year that showed while kids aren’t drinking as much soda as they once were, they’re guzzling more energy drinks and coffee beverages—both caffeinated sweetened products with a nutritional profile similar to most sodas. Sales for ready-to-drink tea—most of which is sweetened—are also up by double digits in the Coca-Cola portfolio, reports Forbes.

That’s concerning if we want to seriously address obesity. The jury is out on no-calorie and low-calorie sweeteners, but mounting recent evidence showings sugar substitutes may contribute the very obesity they’re meant to combat. That’s because they appear to fuel sugar cravings and alter the composition of gut microbes, leading to a rise in blood glucose levels. Several studies have found a link between sugar alternatives and weight gain, and research just published in the journal Appetite found that drinking artificially sweetened beverages make you think about food more, choose high-calorie foods more often, and feel less satisfied after eating things sweetened with actual sugar.

“On face value you’re getting a nice sweet taste without calories, but my research shows it might lead to cognitive shifts that might promote overconsumption later,” Sarah Hill, the study author and a psychologist at Texas Christian University, tells TIME.

This all suggests that even if soda slashes calories by 2025 as promised, the replacement ingredients could come with unforeseen consequences.

The idea of tasting something sweet without getting any energy from it is an evolutionarily very novel thing for our bodies to handle, Hill says. “When you have that unnatural pairing of sweetness and no energy increase, it leads the body to perceive an energy crisis,” Hill says. “It triggers thoughts and behaviors consistent with a scarcity mode.”

“I think that the real way to get change is drinking water,” Hill says. Plain, unadulterated, straight-from-the-tap H2O included.

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