Sugar-sweetened drinks may be tasty and a good energy booster, but before loading up your grocery cart with these beverages, you may want to consider the harmful effects that frequent consumption of these products can have on you and your family.
Beverages sweetened with sugar and high-fructose corn syrups like non-diet sodas, sport drinks, energy drinks, flavored milk, sweetened teas, vitamin and flavored water, and fruit drinks that are not 100 percent juice have become a staple of the American diet. However, sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the leading contributors to weight gain and the rising obesity epidemic in the United States, said Sohyun Park, Ph.D, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.
Drinking too much sugar-sweetened beverages can also lead to Type 2 diabetes, dental cavities, tooth decay, cardiovascular disease, gout and liver disease in people who are not obese, Park said.
“Sugar drinks are the largest source of added sugar in our diet,” explained Park, adding that they contain lots of calories and have little or no nutritional value.
Obesity has become a costly public health crisis in the United States and worldwide. CDC officials say it reduces a person’s quality of life, and increases the risk of disability and serious chronic diseases that can lead to premature death like heart disease, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, certain cancers, hypertension and high cholesterol. It can also cause sleep apnea, breathing problems and reproductive complications.
Since 1980, CDC statistics show that the U.S. obesity rate has doubled for adults and tripled for children. Approximately one in six U.S. children and teenagers is obese and one in three U.S. adults is obese, that is about 12.5 million children and over 72 million adults, Park said.
The numbers are even more ghastly when you factor in the number of people in America who are overweight. CDC statistics show that about 23 million, or 32 percent, of U.S. children and teenagers, 2 to 19 years old, are either overweight or obese, and an estimated 146 million U.S. adults, or about 68 percent, are either overweight or obese. This means that about one in three children and adults in the United States is either battling with excess weight gain or obesity.
Obesity can be caused by genetics or a medical condition, but researchers attribute the staggering increase in obesity with changes in the global food market and the environment, and the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which also increased markedly over the past three decades. “The environment has changed, but the genetics has not,” said Dr. Robert Mendelson, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Today, millions of Americans, especially teenagers, black people and low-income people, are gobbling down sugar-sweetened beverages like water, according to the CDC’s 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The recently released survey reveals that about half of the U.S. population aged 2 and older consumes sugar drinks on any given day. Teenage boys consume, on average, almost 300 calories from sugar drinks each day, more than any other age group.
The American Heart Association recommends that people drink no more than 450 calories (36 oz.) of sugar-sweetened beverages per week; that is equivalent to three 12-oz. cans of soda per week. However, Dr. Mendelson said, children should not drink any of these beverages.
Researchers say the increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is due to clever advertising and marketing strategies, enticing products and an abundant supply which makes these drinks easily accessible and affordable.
Although obesity is associated with poor lifestyle choices, it’s not that simple. “The very steep rise in the obesity epidemic in a relatively short period of time — over the last 30 years — signals that it is not due to a sudden loss of individual responsibility. People did not just become irresponsible about their diets,” said Roberta Friedman, director of public policy at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. “The problem lies in the environments we live in, which have an abundance of processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and a lack of access for many to healthy and affordable foods. In addition, people are bombarded with advertising for high-fat and high-sugar food.”
Dr. Mendelson agrees. “Very often both parents are working and the easiest thing to get is fast food, which is much more available than it used to be a generation ago, and with fast food, generally people will order a sugar-sweetened beverage,” he said.
Obesity affects all age, ethnic and income groups, but it is more prevalent in black and Hispanic communities, where sugar drinks are marketed more frequently and consumed in larger quantities than other ethnic groups, Park said.
About 36 percent of black children and 38 percent of Hispanic children in the United States, ages 2 to 19, are overweight or obese, as compared to 29 percent of white children in the same age group, Park said.
Black and Hispanic adults also have higher obesity rates than whites. Almost 50 percent of black women are obese and 43 percent of Hispanic women are obese, compared to 33 percent of white women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Additionally, about 37 percent of black men and 34 percent of Hispanic men are obese, compared to about 32 percent of white men.
Despite the grim statistics, Park said obesity is a preventable disease, which can be modified through lifestyle changes and implementing policies to ensure a healthier environment.
For tips on living a healthier lifestyle, click on the following link: Dietary Guidelines Consumer Brochure.