Shaquille O'Neal Hyping 270-Calorie Sodas
CSPI Says AriZona Beverages' "Soda Shaq" Undercuts Shaq's Concerns About Obesity, Diabetes
Hoops champion, television host, film star, rapper, and sometime law enforcement officerShaquille O'Neal has a brand new entry atop his curriculum vitae: junk drink pitchman. Soda Shaq's starting lineup of cream sodas includes Vanilla, Blueberry, Strawberry, and Orange flavors—each with 270 calories and 17 teaspoons of sugar per can. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the retired athlete to reconsider whether he wants to promote a product that contributes to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
A press release from Soda Shaq maker AriZona Beverages and retailer 7-Eleven says fans "can satisfy their sweet tooth without the guilt," and that the companies and Shaq will promote the "all natural" drinks to their "huge social media followings on Twitter and Instagram." As recently as last year, O'Neal had professed his concern about diabetes, telling CNN's Sanjay Gupta about his family members' struggle with the disease, and how one of his habits is to "stay away from the sodas." He's starred on a weight-loss program on ABC called "Shaq's Big Challenge." And, he's been involved with a children's "nutrition education destination" calledSuper Sprowtz and is an investor in a company that makes a glucose product for diabetics called "Quick Sticks."
"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."
CSPI has long been critical of celebrities and athletes who market junk-food to children. It waged a campaign to "Save Harry" from Coca-Cola marketing in advance of the premier of the first Harry Potter movie, and more recently criticized Beyoncé for a $50 million Pepsi deal. Last year CSPI released The Real Bears, an animated short film which shows a family of bears suffering the adverse health effects of soda consumption, which include obesity, diabetes, and such side effects of diabetes as amputation and erectile dysfunction.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than
6 teaspoons, and men consume no more than 9 teaspoons, of added sugars per day. Despite the implausible assertion on the label that the non-resealable vessel contains three servings, a single can of Soda Shaq cream soda contains about two to three times as much sugar as the heart association recommends for a whole day.
"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. "Beverage companies like using sports figures because it links sugary junk drinks like soda with fitness and athletic achievement. It helps neutralize concern over obesity, diabetes, and other health problems linked with soda consumption—problems that African Americans happen to suffer from disproportionately."
"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 Freddy Got Fingered," Jacobson said.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).