End Soda Now!

Cathy Arnst

I think we all know that there is nothing good to be said on behalf of soda (or pop, for you fellow midwesterners). Nevertheless, too many of us feel powerless to keep our kids from guzzling it down. I know how hard it is to combat soda's pervasiveness. I was recently at a parents/kids party, and the only beverages they had for the children were sodas and apple juice (another source of empty calories). My daughter is usually more than happy with water or milk, but because every other kid was drinking it she had an orange pop to fit in (which could be the subject of another blog entry). One of her 7-year-old friends drank 3 sodas over the course of 2-1/2 hours!
If you figure a soda now and then, or even daily, isn't such a big deal, check out a study just published by Children's Hospital in Boston.

The hospital took 103 teens, and asked half to refrain from drinking soda for six months. Instead, they got weekly home deliveries of noncaloric beverages of their choice.

At the end of six months, the group receiving beverage deliveries had an 82 percent reduction in consumption of sugary drinks, while intake in the control group remained unchanged. The heavier the teen was initially, the stronger the effect on body weight. Among the heaviest one-third of teens, the beverage-delivery group had a marked decrease in body mass index (BMI), while the control group had a slight increase -- a group-to-group difference of almost 1 pound per month. Other factors affecting obesity -- physical activity levels and television viewing -- did not change in either group.

Still not convinced? The endocrinologists who conducted the study calculated that a single 12-oz sugar-sweetened beverage per day translates to about 1 pound of weight gain over 3 to 4 weeks. When I point this out to friends whose kids have soda regularly, they have two responses: a) it's the only thing he/she will drink and b) he/she is skinny, so it doesn't matter.

To point A, I say, who's in charge here? Someone had to give them soda in the first place. If your children are still young, it shouldn't be that hard to wean them off (you could start by limiting your own soda intake. C'mon, it'll do you good). With teenagers, you could try discussing with them the downside of soda--showing them this study might give them pause.

As for point B, I can only say, just wait. A young child with bad eating habits can easily end up as an overweight teen, as activity levels slow and appetite increases. And if we keep on the course we're on, chances are at least half our kids will end up fat, according a very distrubing study in the latest International Journal of Pediatric Obesity:

Nearly half of the children in North and South America will be overweight by 2010, up from what recent studies say is about one-third
"This is going to be the first generation that's going to have a lower life expectancy than their parents," said Dr. Phillip Thomas, a surgeon unconnected to the study who works exclusively with obese patients in Manchester, England. "It's like the plague is in town and no one is interested."

We're the parents. We're the ones that have to be interested. I know it can be a particular challenge for working parents to get healthy food into their kids--it's not like we have lots of time to whip up fabulous home-cooked meals. But we can at least eliminate the bad actors in our refrigerators. So get soda out of the house. Your kids may still drink it when they're out, but at least they'll have a good environment to come home to.

Any suggestions on how to break the soda jones?

One more thing: for more on the dangers of soda, and how to rid one's life of it, check this entry in the www.diet-blog.com, a repository of interesting posts on many diet and food-related topics.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.