by Roy Benaroch, MD
Overweight is (by far) the most common chronic unhealthy condition I see in my office. About 1 in 3 children are overweight, and many of those will continue to struggle to reach and maintain a healthy weight—while fighting with diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, psychological stress, and many other problems. Weight problems often seem very difficult and frustrating to treat.
A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease control shows that at least for some teens, there may be a fairly easy solution: stop drinking sweetened soda.
The survey reviewed diet and other health habits among 17,000 Americans. They found that soda consumption is highest among young men and teens, who on average consume about 270 calories a day in soda. That’s about 7% of their total calorie intake.
From some quick calculations, that 270 extra calories works out to about 15 extra pounds of weight a year (I had to make some assumptions about activity level and other factors, but 15 pounds is a good ballpark.) Think about that. For the many teens who struggle with their weight, just stopping the soda (or substituting no-calorie soda) will lead to a weight loss of 15 pounds a year. Cut soda consumption in half, and expect to lose seven or eight pounds. It’s really quite striking—such a simple change, and such dramatic benefits.
Soda used to be marketed as a treat in a little bottle or a small cup. I don’t mean to sound old, but I remember the sodas that used to be served at McDonalds—12 oz, and that was enough. Now it’s routine to see 32 oz cups at gas stations, and 1-liter bottles sold as single servings. Super size is now “regular sized”, and that large soda has over 300 calories. That’s more than their cheeseburger or hot apple pie.
What about diet drinks for kids? They’re made with weird chemicals, but I know of no good data that shows artificial sweeteners cause health problems in humans. Contrast that with the added calories from sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which we know lead to obesity and all of its chronic health consequences. To my view, artificial sweeteners aren’t less healthy than unnecessary calories. It’s better to drink water, but given a choice between diet and regular soda, your kids ought to go with the lower calorie alternative.
If you or your child are struggling to reach a healthy weight, it’s often best to think of simple steps that the whole family can live with, long term. Getting sweetened beverages (including soda, but also sports drinks, juice, and any other drink with sugar) out of the daily routine can lead to a big drop in daily calories. It’s a simple step, and one that you and your kids can manage. Do it.