What’s So Bad About Soda Pop? Part 3

North America

As we mentioned, WebMD recently published a comprehensive article by Salynn Boyles on this very subject, which is of great interest because, of course, evidence piles up every day of the undeniable and unwholesome relationship between childhood obesity and soda. What’s wrong with sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)? As the old joke goes, it would be quicker to list the things that are right about SSBs, extremely quick indeed, since the number is around 0.

There has been much discussion over the past few years about the idea of sin-taxing soda pop, like tobacco, on the theory that a huge surcharge paid to the government will A) discourage people from buying and using so much of the substance, and B) help pay for the damage. Everybody has something to say about it, and everybody has their reasons, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, that says, via its executive director Michael Jacobson,

… sugary soft drinks deserve to be singled out in the battle against obesity because they are the biggest single source of empty calories in the American diet.

Obviously, the poor are more likely to be affected by a soda tax, which is all to the good, if you leave aside certain nagging questions that are inevitably raised by the opponents. Another way to help keep the poor from using such excessive amounts of SSBs is to forbid assistance programs to pay for them. Really, does it make sense that a person on the SNAP program (formerly, on “food stamps”) is not allowed to buy nutritional supplements but is allowed to buy as many liters of fizzy sugar water as the cart can hold?

Marion Nestle, Ph.D., teaches nutrition and food studies at New York University. Once philosophically uncomfortable with the soda tax idea, she has come around to it, and explains why on her own website, Food Politics. She writes,

Evidence is strong that sugary drinks predispose to obesity, and obesity rates are higher among low-income households. In New York City, for example, obesity and Type 2 diabetes are twice as prevalent among the poorest households compared with the wealthiest. Preliminary evidence suggests that sugars in liquid form may especially predispose to obesity.

Overall, soda companies have worked hard to create an environment in which drinking sugary beverages all day is normal. They lobby to introduce and retain vending machines in schools. As sales in the United States have declined, they increasingly market their products to people in developing countries. They put millions of dollars to work fighting soda taxes and, no doubt, the proposed SNAP ban… soft drink companies have had a free ride for decades.

Dr. Nestle is something of a maverick, for instance, in her willingness to cite a source generally shunned by professionals in the higher education realm, that source being anecdotal evidence. Boyles reports,

Nestle says pediatricians who treat overweight children tell her that many of their patients take in 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day from soft drinks alone.

A Yale University meta-study, or analysis of 88 other studies, determined that soda drinkers tend to be heavier than people who stay away from SSBs — no surprise there — but Boyles also mentions an interesting tidbit garnered from that research: On days when a person drinks a lot of SSBs, the person also tends to eat more calories worth of food. Now, there is a sobering thought.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sodas and Your Health: Risks Debated,” WebMD, 10/09/11
Source: “Food stamps should not be valid for soda purchases,” Food Politics, 05/01/11
Image by Like_the_Grand_Canyon, used under its Creative Commons license.

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