According to a group that tracks this sort of thing, the leading generators of food sales are (more or less in order): soft drinks, refrigerated milk, ready-to-eat cereal, fresh bread, bottled water, cookies, chocolate candy, and potato chips. Soft drinks are #1. A sufficient explanation for America’s weight problem?
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A new study from U. North Carolina measures soft drink consumption in the U.S. population from 1965 to 2002. The increase is 21%–and a whopping 222 calories per day, close to the reported increase in calorie intake from all sources over that time period. The authors count all sweetened drinks: traditional colas, juice drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin waters. All of these add calories (unless they are artificially sweetened, of course.
A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds “considerable improvements” in school food in recent years. In response to concerns about childhood obesity, schools are making changes in food availability and physical activity requirements. Well, maybe some schools. If you are an optimist, you will be cheered by what’s happening: nearly 30% of schools have banned junk foods from vending machines, when only 4% did so in 2000. If you are a pessimist, you will shudder to hear that soft drinks are still sold in 75% of high schools. And oh great: schools selling bottled water have grown from 30% to 46% (what ever happened to good, clean, free water?). The New York Times summary of the report is worth a look, as is the fact sheet from the CDC.
Why am I not surprised to read in today’s New York Times that the Beverage Association has “adjusted” its promise to take sugary soft drinks out of schools? Promises, schmomises. As long as you can keep selling drinks in schools. My opinion: let’s get the vending machines out of schools altogether. They didn’t used to be there. They don’t have to be there now. Bring back water!
The Framingham Heart Study has just released new results suggesting that people who drink one or more 12-ounce sodas a day have a greater chance of developing “multiple metabolic risk factors” such as obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar (diabetes), or low HDL-cholesterol (the good kind). The story made headlines in USA Today and other publications because diet sodas–which have no calories–were associated with the same level of risk as that of sodas made with corn sweeteners. As might be expected, soda industry officials find this result ridiculous but I think it makes sense if you think of sodas–diet and not–as an indicator of poor dietary habits. Plenty of evidence suggests that many (although certainly not all) people who habitually drink sodas of any kind consume more calories, have worse diets, and are more likely to be overweight than people who do not. For some individuals, using artificial sweeteners helps maintain weight. But on a population basis, the huge increase in use of artificial sweeteners since the early 1980s has occurred precisely in parallel with rising rates of obesity. So lots of people must be making up for the calories they save in diet sodas by eating other junk foods. When it comes to food, I don’t care for anything artificial so I try to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as I can. And you?