The Truth About Soft Drinks

If you follow much news at all, you’ll know public health officials around the globe are on a mission to educate the world about the evils of soft drink consumption. Dire warnings about obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, and a myriad of other negative side effects have infiltrated media campaigns in efforts to get people to change their habits. Despite aggressive advertising, including a New York ‘fat shock-ad’relying on revolting images, a 2013 cross-national study of 75 countries suggests soft drink consumption has increased globally from 36 litres per person per year in 1997 to 43 litres in 2010.

The world’s steady guzzling of syrupy drinks has motivated more drastic measures to change people’s habits, including a recent effort by New York City major, Michael Bloomberg, to ban large soft-drinks. Heralding jokes about ‘nanny-state’ tactics by some, enthusiastic support by others, and a multi-million dollar campaign to combat the efforts by the American soft-drink industry, Bloomberg’s two proposals have thus far been rejected. One Supreme Court Justice dismissed the strategy as ‘arbitrary and capricious’. These arguments seem reminiscent to those expressed in relation to the ‘fat tax’ in Denmark, which, one year after its implementation was scraped on the basis that Dane’s eating habits didn’t change.

Some public health officials argue the focus should be on limiting children’s consumption of sugary drinks in order to address the increasing problem of childhood obesity. Numerous schools in France, Britain and America have now banned soft drinks. More recently, the ACT has joined the banning band-wagon, which has seen a fair amount of backlash from opponents who fear the ban is much too simplistic and the real issue should be about finding balance between physical activity and the entire context of a child’s diet.

Despite these on-going debates about the most appropriate tactics to fight the global epidemic of obesity and obesity-related disease, there is a consensus that soft-drinks are high in sugar. 35g or six teaspoons of sugar hide in a normal size can and it’s now well-known that sugar consumed in excess is correlated with increased body weight and risk of diseases such as diabetes. Even the European president of Coca-Cola, who lives off the success of the world’s sugary-drink consumption, acknowledges that customers are unlikely to know just how much sugar they’re consuming.

To combat the sugar issue, diet soft drinks have long been advertised as a healthier alternative, but more recent research has warned diet soft drinks are just as bad for one’s health as their regular counterpart. Artificial sweeteners have now been shown to slow down the body’s metabolic processes, lead to increased sugar cravings and cause increased hunger signals, all of which are likely to lead to increased body weight, diabetes and heart disease.

It’s not just sugar we should point our fingers at. In fact, a can of Coca-Cola lists the ingredients as ‘water, sucrose, caramel colour, phosphoric acid, natural flavours, and caffeine’ all of which are ambiguously misleading. ‘Natural flavours’, for example, although connoted with ‘health’, can actually include a myriad of synthetic concoctions. For more information on the controversy, check out one chemistry professor’s fascinating expose of the word ‘natural’.

The bottom line: Do yourself and your children a favour by avoiding both regular and sugar-substitute soft-drinks. Focus on drinking more water and eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which will help you sustain your energy throughout the day.