Liquid Candy: Are Sodas Making Our Kids Fatter, and Sicker?

Just one soft drink can’t make that much of a difference, or can it.?

Alarmingly, research has shown that just one soft drink a day gives a child a 60 percent greater chance of becoming obese.

The number of obese children in America is on the rise, increasing over 100 percent since 1980, and tripling sense the 70’s.  American children and teen-agers are heavier than ever and still gaining weight.

There are many worrisome trends that have contributed to the epidemic of childhood obesity.  The increased consumption of fast food, “super sized” portions, less activity and exercise – kids not playing outdoors as much as in the past, more time sitting in front of computers, video games and the TV are all factors.  But we are now finding the increased consumption of sugar, a whopping estimated 34 teaspoons a day, not just from sugary snacks, but increased soft drink consumption, seems to play a critical role.

Over the last 10 years, soft drink consumption has almost doubled among children in the United States. The average American teenager consumes 15 to 20 extra teaspoons of sugar a day just from soda and other sugared drinks.
That’s hundreds of extra calories that aren’t being compensated for by cutting back on eating.  While people tend to eat less at a meal if they have overeaten at a previous meal, they don’t seem to do the same if the extra calories have come from sugary drinks. In addition, the average soft drink has gone from 8 ounces to 24 or even 32 ounces.  That’s the equivalent of 30 packets of table sugar, or 480 calories in just sugar.  These added calories are adding up to added fat on America’s youth.

Additionally, the extra weight they are gaining poses a real health risk, because childhood obesity leads to adult obesity and chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. However, we are now also seeing these weight-related ailments increasingly occur in children.  Alarming numbers of severely overweight children are developing type 2 diabetes — what we used to call adult-onset diabetes — high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and we are seeing the complications from these at very early ages.

Another often overlooked, but equally important consequence of overweight children is that of low self-esteem.  A child who is heavy is usually teased, ridiculed and shunned, often leading to isolation and depression.  A landmark study of first graders showed that children are more likely to choose as a friend someone with a visible handicap rather than someone who is overweight.

We know by limiting something as simple as the consumption of soft drinks in children, can help prevent obesity. But, the epidemic is the result of many factors. Blaming it on any single thing, including soft drinks, would be nutritional nonsense.  So what is the solution?  First, parents need to look at every aspect of their child’s lifestyle – including food habits and choices, as well as activity level.  Parents need to be the role models — both in activity and food and drink choices. How can we expect our kids to adopt healthy, active lifestyles if we sit on the couch watching TV, eating pizza and drinking soda?

Make better choices
We need to look at what kids are eating and drinking at home and at school, including what they get from vending machines, concession stands and convenience stores.  Children need adequate calories to grow, and healthy snacks are a good way to reach those caloric needs.

What about water? Avoid soft drinks and other sugar-laden beverages. Kids don’t drink or even have a taste for water because they are so used to highly sweetened drinks.  Water is essential for proper hydration, metabolism and brain function.

Read food labels for indications on sugar content. If the word sugar, sucrose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, fructose, honey, or syrup appears first or in the top three ingredients, then the food contains a large amount of sugar. Also look to see how many different sugars are listed — they can add up to be several in one product.

Choose high protein, low sugar snacks and offer alternatives without processed sugars, such as fresh fruit, yogurt, soy nuts, or a sandwich made with whole grain bread, natural peanut butter and sugar free jelly.

Get moving! Make a commitment to promoting exercise and fitness for the entire family.  Parents should initiate activities for everyone to take part in, such as bike riding, roller blading or even walking the dog.  These activities are not only beneficial for the health of parents and children, but also for their relationship.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.