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CindySays: Blame soft drinks for obesity gains

By Cindy Boggs

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.

The Harvard School of Public Health offers this information regarding beverages:

Water: Without a doubt, water is your best choice.

Drinks loaded with sugar: These are the worst choice.

Other drinks: These have pros and cons, but in moderation, can fit into a healthy diet.

Coffee and tea: These are calorie-free, as long as you don't load up on the sugar and cream. They are safe for most people and may even have some health benefits.

Artificially sweetened drinks: These have no calories, but their long-term effects on weight and health are unknown, so it's best to limit them, if you drink them at all.

100 percent fruit juice: Fruit juice has vitamins, but it is high in calories, so stick to no more than a small glass (4 to 6 ounces) a day.

Milk: Milk is also high in calories, so there's no need to drink more than a glass or two of low-fat or skim milk a day, and less is fine.

Alcohol: Alcohol is both a tonic and a poison, and the difference lies in the dose and the person drinking it; moderation is key.

It's anybody's guess as to whether these kinds of regulations will actually cause people to ingest less sugar through beverages. Ultimately, to realize a true shift toward better health, Americans must take greater personal responsibility as we will always have the last say in what we pour into our glass.

Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or email cindysays@aol.com. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.


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