New research shows Texas is one of the 12 most obese states. Daily, we work to fix policies that perpetuate bad health outcomes, and numbers like these remind me we've got no time to waste.
A few months ago, the soda industry launched a so-called "Let's Clear It Up” campaign. An industry which benefits immensely from consumption and pays out shareholders with profits, wants to kind of "get real” with the American people? (I hope this doesn't surprise you, they conclude their product is really not part of the problem.)
The site asks you to learn. And share the clarity. This made me smile.
I accept the challenge.
Unlike the industry, I've got nothing to gain financially from this discussion. As children's health advocates, if a lot of people decide to drink water instead of a soda, all I get is the knowledge that Texans, especially kids, would feel better and reduce their risk of diet-related diseases. I don't have some innate dislike of soda, either. It's fine when it isn't a threat to public health, and if we could see consumption go back to that level, I'd gladly retire my campaign.
Until then, let's go ahead and clear it up.
What the research tells us is that 43% of the rise in children and adults' caloric intake over the last thirty years is due to increased consumption of sugary drinks. Times have changed: Americans' consumption of sugary drinks has more than doubled in the past four decades. Today, carbonated soft drinks provide 7% of calories daily; adding noncarbonated sugary drinks, like sweet teas and sports drinks, brings the number to 9%. Teenagers get 13% of their calories from soft drinks.
As you can see on the industry's own website, these consumption numbers are not in dispute. Although the industry uses this data to imply that this is a small amount, what to keep in mind is that this means at least roughly 10% of calories in kids' diets are completely empty calories. That is a lot. They offer zero nutritional value, and they don't fill people up (sugary drinks don't make us feel less hungry the way food does, so we can keep consuming them without feeling like we should stop).
Studies also show people aren't really aware of how many calories sugary drinks add--and what it realistically takes to work off these calories. Many people would say that fast food is not healthy, but few know that a 32-ounce Coke has more calories than a McDonald's cheeseburger. This means even most adults discount the number of calories they consume from sugary drinks--and with kids and teenagers, forget about it.
To work off that many excess calories--say, 310 calories for a large Coke--a child would either have to cut out 310 calories somewhere from their daily food intake (that's nearly a meal's worth), or burn the calories off through activity, like running for 30 minutes at a 9-minute mile pace, to avoid adding pounds over time. This is not to imply that activity is negative, but an industry that pushes physical activity as the solution should "clear it up,” and explain to kids that they do not have time for both the three sodas a day that one-third of Texas teens are consuming and the hours of exercise it would take to make those empty calories go away.
What these excess calories and weight status mean for a child's health is serious. Research indicates 1-2 sugary drinks per day increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26%. Today 23% of U.S. teens are diabetic or pre-diabetic--a huge jump from previous years. Diabetes can have a devastating impact on a child's long-term health outcomes. It is one big reason why this generation of kids is predicted to be sicker and die sooner than previous generations. If we take an honest look at these numbers, what gets cleared up is that there is no way to turn the tide on child obesity without reducing consumption of empty calories from sugary drinks. That creates a distinct opportunity, too. In my next post, I'll explain what solutions are there for the taking to help change an epidemic and make kids healthier.