Nutrition: Soft Drinks Affect Health


Kids today drink twice as many sodas as they did in the late 1970s according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.  This is a concern for two reasons.  First, a growing body of evidence suggests that obesity in children may be related to the amount of soft drinks they consume.  Second, when children drink more sodas, their intake of healthy beverages, such as nonfat milk and water, decreases, along with their nutrient intake.

Soda is also loaded with caffeine, which can cause nervousness, irritability, restlessness, and fidgetiness in children.  No doubt healthier liquids lack a kick like Mountain Dew, Surge, or Jolt, all of which deliver a powerful caffeine punch per twenty ounces–the equivalent of a five-ounce cup of brewed coffee.

A twelve-ounce can of soda has 150 calories; so one a day leads to about ten extra pounds a year.  And if your kids are drinking a twenty-ounce regular soda, that’s 250 calories, which almost doubles the weight they could gain.  Unfortunately, in our experience it’s not unusual for a child to drink a six-pack of soda a day, which adds about 1,000 extra calories.

One-fourth of the U.S. population steps inside the doors of a fast-food restaurant everyday.  Most of us who frequent these places also buy soft drinks there–and researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health say that, more than anything else, it’s these sugar-laden drinks that make us fat.  “If we are going to consume more beverages, we are going to gain weight,”  said lead author Dr. Barry Popkin.

And who gulps down the most soft drinks?  Consumers between the ages of ten and thirty.  “That’s the time when it’s even scarier, when we get our bone density, when we need milk and need many of the foods that have nutrients, not just nothing–which is what sugar has,”  Popkin declared.

Most soft drinks contain something called high-fructose corn syrup, a cheap sweetener discovered in the early 1970s.  Over the past fifteen years the nation’s consumption of this substance has grown by 250 percent; some experts estimate that we get as much as 9 percent of our daily calories from fructose.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that fructose in high levels elevates dangerous triglycerides by as much as 32 percent and slows down the body’s fat burning and storage system.  Result?  Weight gain.

To help wean your kids off the sugar water, try switching at first to C2 or Pepsi Edge, then maybe to the eight-ounce can.  Perhaps the next step is carbonated or noncarbonated mineral water.  And eventually get them to the point where their beverage of choice is water.  That could take some time, but it will be well worth it.

Taken with permission from Walt Larrimore, MD; Sherri Flynt, MPH, RD, LD with Steve Halliday,SuperSized Kids: How to Rescue Your Child from the Obesity Threat (Center Street).

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.  

Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert.