Kathryn Kauffman is a Registered Dietitian at Dixie Regional Medical Center

Examining the link between soft drinks and our nation's rising obesity rate

Terri Draper

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By Kathryn Kauffman, Registered Dietitian, Dixie Regional Medical Center

The recently released “2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” reveals that obesity rates in America increased for adults from 15 percent to 34 percent between 1970 and 2008, and from 4 to 20 percent for children ages 6-11 years during the same period. The study also shows that not a single state had an adult obesity prevalence rate of more than 25 percent in 1990, and by 2008, 32 states had earned that distinction. Obesity is clearly becoming an epidemic.

Why the rising obesity rates? Numerous factors figure into the increase in obesity rates: super-sizing of meals, lack of physical activity, consumption of high fat foods, and an ever increasing consumption of sugar sweetened beverages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, regular soda consumption climbed from 22 to 46 gallons per person per year between 1970 and 2000 and the numbers are still climbing.

What’s wrong with soft drinks? Soft drink consumption often leads to an increased consumption of sugar and calories, which negatively affect the intake of various essential nutrients. “Today’s Dietitian” states that heavy soft drink consumption has been linked to low intake of Vitamin C, riboflavin, Vitamin A and D and magnesium, as well as a high intake of fat, calories and refined carbohydrates. Nancy Rogers, RD, says “there is a link between increased sugar consumption and elevated markers that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes (higher triglycerides, lower high-density lipoproteins, and possibly increased insulin resistance), along with increased body weight.”

How much is too much sugar? The American Heart Association recently recommended that women consume no more than 100 calories of added sugar per day (6 teaspoons) and men shouldn’t have more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons). They also suggest that we consume no greater than 450 calories (36 ounces) per week of sugar sweetened beverages. Despite those guidelines, a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that most Americans consume 22.2 teaspoons of sugar per day (355 calories).

What about diet soda and those sugar substitutes? The “American Dietetic Association Position Paper” says that the most common sweeteners used in the United States include aspartame, stevia, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame-K — all of which are approved by the Food & Drug Administration and are non-carcinogenic. Some people choose not to use these for a variety of reasons, but unless you have PKU all are considered safe. None of these sugar substitutes have been proven to cause overeating, hyperactivity or trigger insulin release, so diet sodas may be a reasonable alternative for some people but should be used in moderation.

The caloric need for women age 19-50 that are moderately active is 2,000 per day with men needing 2,600 calories per day. One 32-ounce soda fountain beverage equates to approximately 400 calories and 93 milligrams of caffeine, or 15 to 20 percent of daily caloric intake. Just one 32-ounce soda per day can equate to an extra 2,800 calories per week from sugar alone, which converts to an extra three-quarters of a pound per week — adding up to 39 pounds per year!

The bottom line: Both regular and diet soft sodas are NOT nutrient dense and contain many additives, so moderation is key. Simply limiting sugary drinks can have a substantial effect on your health and your weight. So whether your vice is regular or diet soft drinks, consider keeping your consumption at only one 12-ounce soda daily, retire the 32-ounce soda fountain cup, and hydrate with the free stuff — water!

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