"Excessive Soft Drink Consumption and Obesity" by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President & CEO

Excessive Soft Drink Consumption and Obesity

April 15th, 2013 - Forty-three percent of the increase in daily calories Americans consumed over the last 30 years has come from sugary drinks, according to Dr. Harold Goldstein, Executive Director of the non-profit California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

The source of this information is a March, 2011 paper published in Public Health Nutrition entitled, “To what extent have sweetened beverages contributed to the obesity epidemic?” This study concludes that “obesity rates and sweetened beverage intake have increased in tandem in the USA.” The authors also found that “energy in liquid form is not well compensated for by reductions in the intake of other sources of energy,” and estimated that “sweetened beverages account for at least one-fifth of the national weight increase between 1977 and 2007.”

Of course there are doubters. The American Beverage Association, for example, stated that average calories per serving from beverages have dropped 23% since 1998 and that sales of full calorie soda dropped 12.5% between 1999 and 2010. In January, the Wall Street Journal asked the question, “Is this the end of the soft-drink era?” Sugary bubbles are a health concern for diabetes and obesity. Baby boomers are aging and the younger generation is turning to water, coconut based drinks, energy drinks, and fancy coffees.

Meanwhile, Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper Snapple have all expanded their offerings to include sports drinks, fruit drinks, and fancy waters. Coke and Pepsi are dependent on sales abroad, with over 50% of their revenue coming from outside the United States. Our whole world is acclimated to sweetened, carbonated beverages and the marketing wars continue globally.

Public health experts in the Food Navigator recommend seven steps to rein in the overuse of these beverages:

  • Stop all advertising and promotion of sugary drinks to children under age 16
  • Print warning labels on containers stating the link between consumption and obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay
  • Stop selling sugary drinks in parks, at afterschool programs and other places frequented by children
  • Show—in large print—the number of teaspoons of sugar per container
  • Stop marketing sports drinks as healthy beverages
  • Charge more for sugary drinks than equivalent no-calorie beverages
  • Stop promoting the sale of sugary drinks in store entrances, checkout aisles, and in store windows.
Fortunately, the American Beverage Association has a number of initiatives to reduce calories in schools, and make nutrition labels more consumer-friendly. The plans include directing milk, juice, and water-based drinks to the twelve-and-under crowd, and displaying calorie counts on vending machines by the end of the year.

So what should we be drinking?—water, juice, and low fat milk for adults. Very young children should drink whole milk. Coconut milk is gaining in popularity and may have some value in increasing the amount of “good” cholesterol in the body.

One of the indictments of sugary beverages is that they are liquid candy, just idle calories with no nutritional value. Be smart and do your health a favor; cut back on soda and increase your intake of good old aqua natural: water.

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.