Want to be healthier? Think about what you are drinking
Lillian Shirley, RN, MPH, MPA
Multnomah County Health Department Director
Omar is a typical teenager. He plays soccer, likes to hang out with his friends, and drinks a lot of soda and other sugary drinks. On a typical day, he’ll have sweetened juice for breakfast, a soda with lunch, a large sports drink after soccer practice and a couple glasses of soda with dinner. Even though he is pretty active compared to some of his friends, Omar is overweight. He would like to lose a few pounds, but doesn’t know where to start.
Omar and his family could start by thinking about what they are drinking. A 20 oz. bottle of cola contains 240 calories and 16 packs of sugar. That’s twice as much sugar as we are supposed to have for the entire day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. A regular bottle of Jarritos (mandarina flavor) has 185 calories and more than 12 packs of sugar. A can of Jumex (tamarindo) contains 17 packs of sugar. A medium-sized blended coffee drink includes 22 packs of sugar.
If we drink even one soda or sugar-sweetened beverage a day every day, the calories and sugar add up fast. And so do the pounds. In fact, according to an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one soda a day can add up to 15 pounds weight gain in one year.
Omar is not alone. Nationally, one out of three adults is obese, and almost one in five youth between 6 and 19 years old is obese. The numbers are even higher in the Latino community. In Oregon, almost two out of every three Latinos are overweight or obese. More than one in three Latino children between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese.
Being overweight or obese is a health risk. Overweight and obesity can cause many serious and costly health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. These conditions can cause disability and even death. While it is possible to get these health problems without being obese, obesity raises the risk significantly.
On average in the U.S., we each drink 50 gallons of soda and other sweetened beverages a year. In Oregon, nearly a gallon of sugar-sweetened beverage is consumed for every man, woman, and child per week.
Beverage companies work hard to keep the numbers high and have specific targets in mind. The three top soft drink manufacturers spend $1 million a day in the U. S. alone on advertising. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group all have ad campaigns specifically aimed at the Latino community.
Research shows that the rising consumption of sugary drinks — like sodas, sports and energy drinks, and juices with added sugar — is a direct cause of obesity. In recent decades, children have been drinking less milk and more soda. Today, children drink more soda than milk. For each additional serving of soda or juice drink a child consumes per day, their chance of becoming overweight increases by 60 percent.
Also, studies show that Latino teens born in the United States are more likely to gain excess weight than Latino teens born outside the United States. One study found that the obesity rate in California is almost twice as high among Latino adolescents born in the U.S. as it is for those not born here. The studies cite less physical activity and more unhealthy foods, as the causes.
Faced with the twin challenges of abundant sugary choices and targeted marketing, what can you do?
Pay attention to what you and your family are drinking. Are you adding lots of extra calories and sugar to your diet with your choice of drinks? If so, try cutting down. Start with limiting yourself to one small drink a day.
Make it a soda free month. Take the pledge for a soda free summer at www.multco-itstartshere.org. Talk with your friends and family and get them to join you. Instead of soda or another sugary beverage, drink water, sparkling water, or low-fat milk. Tap water in our area is well known for its refreshing taste. It’s good in hot weather and it is free.
Take action in your community. Advocate for healthier drink choices everywhere you spend time. Request school standards that limit unhealthy drink choices in school. Ask for calorie listings for drinks offered in your workplace or at worksite cafeterias. Talk to other members of your church about limiting sugary drinks and offering healthy drink choices at church events.
When the hot summer weather comes and you reach for a refreshing thirst quencher, rethink your drink. Reach for a cold glass of water — maybe with a little lime in it — instead of a sugary drink.
Learn more about a soda free summer and other things you can do to build a healthy community at www.multco-itstartshere.org.
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