The Not-So-Sweet Side of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

By Maren Stewart, President and CEO of LiveWell Colorado- Denver
Posted

Are you thinking about reaching for your second or third sugar-sweetened beverage of the day? If so, you might want to think again.

One 12-ounce can of soda has as much sugar as two candy bars – or about nine teaspoons of sugar. And this added sugar can add up over time. In fact, drinking one soda a day can equal an extra 25 pounds of weight per year.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages & Obesity

While obesity is a complex problem, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) – with their highly concentrated levels of sugar and “empty” calories – are contributing to our country’s rising obesity epidemic.

Many of the SSB-related statistics speak for themselves:

  • A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that children are getting way too much added sugar in their diets, with soft drinks acting as the single biggest source.
  • For children, each extra can or glass of SSB consumed per day increases their chance of becoming obese by 60%.
  • A 2009 California study found that adults who drink one or more sodas per day are 27% more likely to be overweight or obese than those who do not drink soda.
  • A 2009 study found a reduction of SSB intake was significantly associated with weight change.

This certainly doesn’t mean that we have to forgo the occasional soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage. As the saying goes, everything in moderation. However, it is important that we address the contribution of SSBs to rising obesity rates and ensure we create environments that are conducive to healthy eating and drinking.

New Report on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

As part of its efforts to help address Colorado’s obesity epidemic, our partners at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) developed and just released the following report: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB): National Trends and Policies.

This report provides an overview of evolving trends, laws, policies and educational efforts across the nation to inform and spur conversation among public health professionals, policymakers, CDPHE partners and Coloradans concerned with healthy eating and active living.

On the local level, the report highlights what local health departments, hospitals, schools and others within Colorado are doing to reduce consumption of SSBs.

The Role of Hospitals

As institutions that play an important role in public health and improving the lives of others, it makes sense that hospitals across Colorado are taking charge to ensure their patients, employees and visitors have access to healthy food and beverage options. The report highlights several hospitals, including Poudre Valley Health System and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, that are making significant strides on this front:

  • Poudre Valley’s new vending contract requires 50% of items to meet new healthy criteria developed by a nutrition task force team that examined the hospital food environment. Healthy beverages are now defined as those having no sugar.
  • Penrose launched the Better Bites program, which uses pricing manipulation and marketing to promote affordable healthy foods.

Likewise, our partner Kaiser Permanente (KP) is playing an important leadership role in helping its patients reduce their SSB consumption with initiatives such as the following:

  • During well visits for patients 4 years and older, the 5-2-1-0 action plan is given to the children and their families and they are asked to set a goal to improve health – with zero SSBs as one of the daily goals.
  • Patients who are overweight are encouraged to meet with KP’s Registered Dietitian (RD) team, which works with families to set family goals that will improve their nutrition and physical activity. Of patients that are enrolled in a program with an RD, 78% decrease their consumption of SSBs and 51% reach the goal of no SSBs.
  • For patients less than 4 years of age, KP stresses no SSBs since they provide “empty” calories and lead to dental caries – especially when consumed in a bottle or sippy cup.

You can read CDPHE’s report to gain a better understanding of the efforts underway – across the nation and within Colorado – to address this important issue.

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