Healthy Living: Sugar Sweetened Drinks 

There’s More Than SodaBy- Dr. Amy MoviusChildhood obesity has been recognized as a very important topic in recent years.  An estimated 17% of teenagers and children have a BMI-for-age that is greater than or equal to the 95%ile.  Many public health efforts have been made to understand and try to address the epidemic of obesity in our nations youth, such as Maine’s “Keep ME healthy 5-2-1-0” campaign.The amount of Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) consumed by our children is recognized as important factor contributing to obesity.  Adolescents have more than doubled their daily SSB intake since 1977: it now accounts for an average 10-15% of total daily caloric intake! Drinking one 12 ounce can of SSB a day results in up to 15lb of weight gain per year.  Also, studies have shown that drinking SSB has displaced (healthy) milk drinking.Sugar Sweetened Beverages are often equated with soda, but actually include any drink that contains a caloric sweetener such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup.  This includes a LARGE variety of carbonated and noncarbonated Flavored and Sports Beverages (FSBs) as well as soda.A study in the upcoming October issue of the journal Pediatrics (released online yesterday, September 27th) evaluates how food and activity choices of adolescents correlates with SSB consumption, and also evaluates the effects of soda and FSBs separately.  More that 15,000 8th or 11th graders middle and high school students – from public schools across Texas participated.   They reported how many SSBs (0, 1, 2, 3) they drank in the previous day and also answered questions about healthy food intake (fruits/veggies/milk), unhealthy food intake (fried meat/fried snack/dessert), physical activity (PE, organized sports, own activity) and sedentary habits (hours of TV, computer, video games).Alarmingly, 28% of all the teens drank 3 SSBs per day.  All of the SSBs (soda + FSB) were associated with eating unhealthy foods and sedentary habits i.e. the more SSBs you drank, the more unhealthy foods you ate while being sedentary for more hours a day.  However, whereas drinking soda was also associated with less physical activity and less healthy food intake, drinking FSBs was associated with MORE physical activity and MORE healthy food choices.  This means teens who drank more FSBs tended to do more physical activity and eat more healthy foods.  The positive association between drinking FSBs, physical activity and fruit/veggie/milk consumption suggests that FSBs are viewed as being consistent with a healthy lifestyle.  This pattern is also seen with consumption of 100% fruit juice (which is not a SSB).  The presumed explanation is that these products have been successfully marketed as relatively healthy.  In fact, a 20 ounce bottle of a popular sports drink contains almost 9 teaspoons of added sugar.  Public health efforts to date have discouraged intake of all artificially sweetened beverages without making much distinction between different types.  Clearly, health professionals need to be more specific.  In the meantime, encourage those around you to know exactly what they are drinking if it isnt milk or water.Reference:  Ranjit et al. Dietary and Activity Correlates of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Adolescents.  Pediatrics Volume 126, Number 4, October 2010.