CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Here's a quick health check. How do you quench your thirst each day? Think about your beverage habits and then consider the amount of calories you consume on an average day over and above the food you eat.
Once upon a time, water was the primary source of hydration for Americans. But then came sugar, which was cheap, followed by high-fructose corn syrup, even cheaper, and soft-drink consumption rose at a staggering pace.
Soft drinks are loosely defined as any beverage with added sugar or other sweetener and include soda, fruit punch, sweetened powdered drinks, sports/energy drinks, lemonade and other "ades." They are high in calories and have virtually no nutrients.
The Harvard School of Public Health states: "Historians may someday call this period the fattening of America. Between 1985 and now, the proportion of Americans who are overweight or obese has ballooned from 45 percent in the mid-1960s to 66 percent today. There's no single cause for this increase; instead, there are many contributors. One of them is almost certainly our penchant for quenching our thirst with beverages other than water."
That's right. Just as pregnancy produces babies, obesity is the perfect incubator for chronic disease and is delivering diabetes, heart disease and cancer to more and more families each year.
Our nation drinks massive amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages -- aka liquid candy -- without giving it a thought. The beverage industry says that soft-drink makers produce about 10.4 billion gallons of sugary soda pop every year. That's enough to serve every American 12 ounces every day, 365 days a year. Add to that all the millions of gallons of juices, faux juices and colorful pouches, cans and boxes of drinks.
What's one sugary drink a day? Well, that's about 150 sugary calories, usually involving high-fructose corn syrup. Here's a visual on that -- 10 teaspoons of table sugar! If you drink just one can of sugar-sweetened beverage a day, and not cut back on calories elsewhere, you're likely to gain 15 pounds a year.
Many will decide to simply substitute "diet" drinks with artificial sweeteners to sidestep the weight gain. However, studies show that artificial sweeteners may play tricks with our brain/metabolism and may also condition our taste buds to crave super-sweet foods. In other words, drink a no-calorie drink and wind up eating the candy bar later.
The state of our nation's health, along with these alarming statistics, cause health officials to cringe and scramble to find solutions to slow the rise of obesity. The medical community and growing numbers of health advocates continue to offer strategies to inform and hopefully to affect the lifestyle and nutritional choices we are making.
Last month, New York City enacted a bold and unique policy to prohibit the sale of large sugary drinks (more than 16 ounces) in the city's restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums in an effort to curb the intake of empty calories. While this ban by health officials has been met with opposition, it sheds light on how we as a nation are increasingly out of control in terms of the day-to-day decisions we make regarding our weight and subsequently our health.
Additionally, Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper are rolling out new vending machines this month that post calorie counts right at your fingertips. There will also be health tips reminding you to think about choosing a low-calorie drink. While this seems like their idea, it simply comes ahead of a new regulation that will require restaurant chains and vending machines to include this as early as next year.