WHAT'S SO SOFT ABOUT SOFT DRINKS?

Cathy Arnst

Over the weekend two different sets of parents, with daughters the same age as mine (8-1/2), asked me how I keep Jesse from drinking soda. I was taken aback. I thought you keep children from drinking soda by not giving it to them. But plenty of parents find this approach challenging at best, and unsuccessful. This could be because they are drinking soda themselves, though in one case, the mom was a vegetarian who doesn't even drink coffee. It may also be because they figure it's just not worth fighting over, especially if they are in a restaurant.

In fact, it is definitely worth the fight, more so than any other junk food. A study released this week by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity clearly shows that soft drinks are associated with increased calorie intake, higher body weight, a decrease in calcium and other nutrients, and increased risk of diabetes. Reporting in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers analyzed 88 previously published studies on soft drink consumption, and found that annual consumption has dramatically increased in the U.S., from an average of 90 eight-ounce servings per person in 1942 to 600 servings in 2000!

The team found in multiple studies that soft drinks were linked to a greater overall calorie intake, and that people did not compensate by reducing calorie consumption elsewhere. Some studies even associated soft drink consumption with increased caloric intake beyond the calories from the soft drinks themselves.

The researchers also found that studies financed by the beverage industry found far less health effects than did independent studies--surprise, surprise. “It is alarming that industry-funded studies so consistently favor industry and that these reports muddy what are otherwise clear waters,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center. “It is more evident than ever that soft drink reduction must be a priority and that the weak measures introduced by industry to curb soft drink sales in schools should not be considered adequate.”

I blogged about the determinental effects of soft drinks a year ago, in END SODA NOW!, and some of the studies reviewed by the Rudd group are covered there, if you want to check them out. But I think we all know that soda has no redeeming social value. What we need to figure out now is how to ween our kids off it.

I fear I come off as being sanctimonious when I say that I never gave it to my daughter in the first place, so she never asks for it. She considers soda too sweet, and her beverages of choice are always water, seltzer or milk (skim milk, to be even more sanctimonious). But it was easy for me to skip the soda because I never drink it myself--because, in turn, my parents never gave it to me. Not for health reasons though. They were just too broke to afford it. For my family, a big treat was to go out to A&W Drive In for a root beer float, and I still like to reserve this retro treat for once in a blue moon, just like when I was a kid (incidentally, I also grew up on powdered milk, which is why skim tastes fine to me).

Most working parents have no trouble affording soda these days, and it probably seems crazy to deny your kids something so ubiquitous. But the best thing you could do for their long term health is to say no to soft drinks. If anyone has any tips on how they got their kids or themselves off soda, please share.

By the way, the Rudd Center runs an excellent blog on all things nutritional, Rudd Sound Bites. Check it out!