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How Soft Drinks are Harming American's Health!
Michael F. Jacboson, Ph.D.
Center for Science is the Public Interest
Washington, DC

Adding in noncarbonated soft drinks (including fruit drinks, ades, iced teas, and the like) adds thousands of more empty calories to the diet each year.

Carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet, providing about 7 percent of calories; adding in noncarbonated drinks brings the figure to 9 percent. Teenagers get 13 percent of their calories from carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks.

Consumption of carbonated soft drinks peaked in 1998, when consumption was 56.1 gallons per person. In a historic turnaround, consumption was 7 percent lower in 2004. And because some people have switched to diet sodas, the consumption of caloric soft drinks declined by 12 percent.

Soft drinks provide large amounts of sugars (mostly high-fructose corn syrup) to many individuals' diets. Soda pop provides the average 12- to 19-year-old boy with about 15 teaspoons of refined sugars a day and the average girl with about 10 teaspoons a day. Those amounts roughly equal the government's recommended limits for teens' sugar consumption from all foods.

Soft drinks are a problem not only for what they contain, but for what they push out of the diet. In 1977–78, boys consumed more than twice as much milk as soft drinks, and girls consumed 50 percent more milk than soft drinks. By 1994–96, both boys and girls consumed twice as much soda pop as milk. Heavy soft drink consumption is associated with lower intake of numerous vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.

The empty calories of soft drinks are likely contributing to health problems, particularly overweight and obesity. Those conditions have become far more prevalent during the period in which soft drink consumption has soared. Several scientific studies have provided experimental evidence that soft drinks are directly related to weight gain. That weight gain, in turn, is a prime risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which, for the first time, is becoming a problem for teens as well as adults. As people get older, excess weight also contributes to heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.

Frequent consumption of soft drinks may also increase the risk of osteoporosis—especially in people who drink soft drinks instead of calcium-rich milk. Dental experts continue to urge that people drink less soda pop, especially between meals, to prevent tooth decay (due to the sugars) and dental erosion (due to the acids).

Frequent consumers of soft drinks may also be at a higher risk of kidney stones and a slightly higher risk of heart disease. More research is needed in both of those areas.

Besides the sugars and acids, other soft drink ingredients are of concern. Caffeine, which is added to many of the most popular soft drinks, is a mildly addictive, stimulant drug. It also increases slightly the excretion of calcium. Artificial colorings, especially Yellow No. 5, promote attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in some children. Yellow No. 5 also causes hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in a small number of individuals.

Soft drinks are heavily consumed in part because companies promote them vigorously and market them everywhere—in stores, restaurants, gas stations, museums, vending machines, and even schools. Companies spend roughly $700 million on media advertising each year, and hundreds of millions more on other promotional activities, which may involve musicians, actors, contracts with schools, and price discounting.

A number of parents and educators have—in response to the obesity epidemic among youths—begun successful efforts to curb the sale of soft drinks in schools. Currently, many middle schools and most high schools sell soda, with many schools having exclusive marketing contracts with companies. California, Tennessee, Arizona, Philadelphia, New York City, and other jurisdictions have barred non-diet soft drinks from some or all schools.

To help reduce the consumption of soft drinks, especially non-diet varieties, the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes these and other recommendations:

*  National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.

*  The Food and Drug Administration should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.

*  Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.

*  School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.

State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.

Read the Report  (PDF 718Kb)

Press Release: CSPI Calls on FDA to Require Health Warnings on Sodas


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