Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hard Truths about Soft Drinks

In September of 2007, Scientific American published a special edition entitled "Feast and Famine". The subtitle aptly captured the core message of the issue: The Global Paradox of Obesity and Malnutrition. On one level there were the predictable articles about obesity in rich, developed nations co-existing with stunning levels of malnutrition and starvation in poor countries. But the thing that most caught my interest was the emerging phenomenon of obesity and malnutrition co-existing in the very same nations - and often in the very same individuals.

In exploring this apparent paradox, one article concluded that "One of the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic in the Third World is the recent popularity of sweetened beverages." In particular, highly sweetened carbonated beverages like Coke and Pepsi. A person consuming just one 12oz can of regular Coke per day adds about 51,000 calories per year to their diet. Everything else being equal, this would produce a weight gain of about 14.6 pounds. It doesn't take very long to become obese if you manage to gain 14 pounds per year.

Worse, those same 365 cans of Coke provide virtually zero nutritional benefit, consisting as they do of water, sugar and salt. How much sugar? Although the sweeter used in  soda is most often high fructose corn syrup, it is equivalent to about 10 teaspoons of table sugar (sucrose) per 12oz can. Pile up 10 teaspoons of sugar on the counter sometime, just to see how much that really is. Per can.

Here are some more hard facts about these soft drinks that are of direct concern to us here in the US.

Sodas continue to contribute to the rising obesity rates here just like they do around the world. in 2011, according to the Gallup organization's Well-being Index, 26% of Americans defined themselves as obese. That is one in 4 of us. And obese, not simply overweight. And since this was a self-assessment, it it reasonable to think the numbers are low, if anything. The Washington non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest labels heavy sugar consumption as the most direct cause of America's fasted growing health threat - Type II diabetes.

If you think switching to "diet" sodas solves the problem, think again. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition directly linked diet drinks with an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes. (In fairness, this may well be a "non-causal correlation". We've all seen people wash down their Superberger and MegaFries with a diet Coke.)

How about checking with your doctor for his opinion? Not a bad idea but keep in mind that the soft drink industry donates billions (with a B) of dollars every year to doctors, dentists, dieticians and major anti-hunger groups. And as independent evidence mounts connecting sugary drinks with serious health problems, so does the industry's donations - increasing 30 times between 2005 and 2009.  Not that any of these organizations would be swayed by a few billion dollars. Just saying.

What does the soft drink industry have to say about all this? "None of these studies say that drinking a soft drink will make you obese," according to Christopher Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association. I can't disagree Chris. But let me ask you, who do you know that drinks "a" soft drink?

No comments:

Post a Comment