By Mark Dempsey
“We need to get back to the better habits of our past,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck, “when families used to sit down for dinner with a carton of milk on the table, and ‘Pass the milk, Mom’ was a common refrain.”
Today, teenage boys and girls drink twice as much soda as milk, whereas twenty years ago the opposite was true. That’s one major finding from a report published by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, says, “Many teens are drowning in soda pop. It’s become their main beverage, providing many with 15 to 20 percent of all their calories and squeezing out more nutritious foods and beverages from their diets. It’s time that parents limited their children’s soft drink consumption and demanded that local schools get rid of their soft drink vending machines, just as they have banished smoking.”
“That’s the risk,” says LHSFNA Associate Director of Health Promotion Angela Brennan. “By substituting sodas for more nutritious foods and beverages, you are inviting disease to take root in your family.”
Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes, a bone disease expert at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, says, “I’m particularly concerned about teenage girls. Most girls have inadequate calcium intake, which makes them candidates for osteoporosis when they’re older and may increase their risk for broken bones today. High soda consumption is a concern because it may displace milk from the diet in this vulnerable population.”
The risk of osteoporosis depends, in part, on how much bone mass is built early in life. Girls build 92 percent of their bone mass by age 18, but if they don’t consume enough calcium in their teenage years, they cannot “catch up” later. That is why experts recommend higher calcium intakes for youths nine to 18 than for adults 19 to 50.
Other Health Effects
Soda also contains a number of substances that contribute to health problems.
Refined sugar is one of several important factors that promote tooth decay (dental caries). Regular soft drinks promote decay because they bathe the teeth in sugar-water for long periods of time.
Kidney (urinary) stones are one of the most painful disorders to afflict humans and one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract. After a study suggested a link between soft drinks and kidney stones, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) conducted an intervention trial involving 1,009 men who suffered with kidney stones and drank at least 5.33 ounces of soda per day. Half the men were asked to refrain from drinking soda, while the others were not. Over the next three years, drinkers of cola beverages (acidified only with phosphoric acid) who reduced their consumption to less than half their customary levels were almost one-third less likely to experience a recurrence of stones. While more research needs to be done on the cola-stone connection, the NIDDK includes cola beverages on a list of foods that doctors may want to advise patients to avoid.
Caffeine, a mildly addictive stimulant, is present in most cola and “pepper” drinks, as well as some orange sodas and other products. Caffeine’s addictiveness may be one reason why, according to Beverage Digest, six of the seven most popular soft drinks contain caffeine. One problem with caffeine is that it increases the excretion of calcium in urine. Drinking 12 ounces of caffeine-containing soda causes the loss of about 20 milligrams of calcium or two percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (or Daily Value). That loss, compounded by the relatively low calcium intake in girls who are heavy consumers of soda, may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and rapid heart beat. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it causes children who normally do not consume much caffeine to be restless and fidgety, develop headaches and have difficulty going to sleep. Due to its addictiveness, when children age six to 12 stop consuming soda, they suffer withdrawal symptoms that impair their attention span and performance.
Some additives used in soft drinks cause occasional allergic reactions. Yellow 5 dye causes asthma, hives and a runny nose. Dyes also can cause hyperactivity in sensitive children.
Partly because of powerful advertising, universal availability and low price – and partly because of disinterest among many nutritionists and other health professionals – Americans have come to consider soft drinks a routine snack and a standard, appropriate part of meals instead of an occasional treat, as they were considered two decades ago. Moreover, many of today’s younger parents grew up with soft drinks, see their routine consumption as normal and, as a result, make little effort to restrict their children’s consumption.
It is a fact, though, that soft drinks provide enormous amounts of sugar and calories to a nation that does not meet national health and dietary goals and is experiencing an epidemic of obesity. Replacing soda with milk will not only deter or delay these conditions, but in the long run will save the health care industry millions of dollars in treatment.