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Sugary Drinks: Why Supersizing Them is Supersizing Us

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supersized sugary drinks will make us supersized Makarov Alexander/PhotoSpin

Part I of a two-part series

Pop quiz:

When you feel thirsty do you tend to go for:
a. carbonated soft drink (soda)
b. fruit juice or fruit drink
c. water
d. energy drink

If you answered water, congratulations. You’re on the right track.

Water provides everything the body needs. It’s the perfect fluid for quenching your thirst and restoring fluids lost through metabolism and exercise, according to The Beverage Guidance Panel, an independent group of U.S. nutrition experts.

If you answered one of the other options, you are certainly not alone. In fact, on any given day, half of all Americans — that’s about 157 million of us — consume sugar sweetened drinks.

Given that statistic, it should come as no surprise that serving up sugary drinks is big business. In the United States alone, soft drink manufacturing is a $410 billion industry, according to 2002 figures.

So what's the big deal anyway? When it comes to our health, are sugary drinks really Public Enemy Number One?

Research shows there is no question we are drinking more highly sweetened drinks now than in the past, and those rising consumption rates are a major contributor to increased obesity rates and obesity-related health conditions.

This is a well-researched area with scores of studies all pointing to over-consumption of sugary drinks and systematic weight gain leading to poor health.

For example, University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers found adults who drink a soda or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who do not drink sodas, regardless of income or ethnicity.

Since the1950s, Americans' sugary drinks consumption has risen dramatically —fivefold — according to research.

Before 1950, the average size of soft drinks were 6.5-ounces. By the early 1950s, soft drink makers had introduced the 12-ounce bottle, which became the standard size during the next decade.

But by 2009, the 20-ounce bottle was the norm. In 2011, the 1.25 liter contour bottle was introduced to a thirsty public which offers a full 42-ounces of “liquid candy”.

It’s not just soft drinks we’re talking about here. Sports drinks, fruit drinks, heavily sweetened iced tea and coffees, and other sweetened beverages, all have typically from 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar in a 12-ounce serving.

Research shows over the years, Americans have adjusted their palates to syrupy liquids that would have tasted sickeningly-sweet to our ancestors just a few generations ago.

In the process we have packed on the pounds and raised our risk for a host of serious health problems including certain types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, gout, type 2 diabetes, poor oral health, bone fractures and many other conditions.

Another study, by the National Cancer Institute, found 1 in 4 Americans get at least 200 calories per day from sugary drinks and another 5 percent get at least 567 calories — equivalent to four cans of soda.

Sugary drinks (soda, energy and sports drinks) are the top calorie source in teens’ diets (226 calories per day), beating out pizza (213 calories per day).

Among children, the UCLA study found that 40 percent of young children,
age 2 to 11, are drinking at least one soda or sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Adolescents between the ages of 12-17 represent the biggest sugary drink consumers, with 62 percent (over 2 million kids) drinking one or more sodas every day. That's the equivalent of consuming 39 pounds of sugar each year in soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Given the growing number of kids packing on extra pounds, it’s no coincidence that the number of children and teens prescribed medicine to treat high blood pressure or diabetes appears to have increased.

Dr. Joshua N. Liberman, a researcher with CVS Caremark in Hunt Valley, MD, and colleagues analyzed the prescription records of more than 5 million commercially insured kids, ages 6 to 18, covered by a pharmacy benefits manager.

They found the prevalence of children and teens prescribed medications for high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol or diabetes increased 15.2 percent (from 3.3 percent per 1,000 youths in 2004 to 3.8 per 1,000 in 2007). The 2009 study was published in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

In part II of the report, we’ll look at 10 more ways consuming sugary drinks are negatively impacting our health.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sources and Consumer Information:

“Healthy Beverage Guidelines.” The Nutrition Source. Accessed 22 August 2012 at:

”Bubbling over: Soda Consumption and its link to obesity in California.” UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Susan H. Babey, Malia Jones, Hongjian Yu, Harold Goldstein. Sep. 2009. Access at:

National Cancer Institute. Mean Intake of Energy and Mean Contribution (kcal) of Various Foods Among US Population, by Age, NHANES 2005–06. Accessed Aug 20, 2012.

US Soft Drink Market (2002). Spellman Research. Access at:

Studies investigate childhood obesity, diabetes and related conditions. JAMA/Archives press release. 6 April 2009. Accessed via Eurekalert.org

Reviewed August 28, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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