Put down that sugary drink – or put on the pounds

The News TribuneOctober 1, 2012 

The nation’s obesity rate has nearly tripled in the last 40 years, and scientists say new research has solidly pinpointed the No. 1 culprit.

It’s all those liquid sugar bombs Americans have been consuming – soda pop, sports drinks, juices, blended coffees and other sweetened drinks – most of which have little or no nutritional value.

During the last four decades, we’ve doubled our caloric intake of beverages sweetened with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup – but we haven’t been cutting back calories at mealtime. If anything, we’ve been supersizing our meals.

That net caloric gain is why more than a third of American adults are considered obese. And it’s why you can put school photos of today’s kids next to ones from 40 years ago and see a glaring difference in the number of overweight children. Doctors are seeing such an alarming increase in the number of young people with Type 2 diabetes – a condition directly linked to weight – that it can hardly be called adult-onset diabetes anymore.

The best thing parents can do to prevent their children from getting fat is to take away their sugary drinks and substitute diet drinks; the researchers found no link between them and weight gain.

In one study, overweight or obese Latino teens who switched to diet soda were on average 14 pounds lighter after a year than their counterparts who continued to drink sugary sodas. That difference climbed to 20 pounds after two years of sticking to diet drinks.

Many scientists are urging lawmakers to pass limits on sugary drinks; New York City did with sodas larger than 16 ounces. And in June, the American Medical Association said taxing sugary beverages would improve health and reduce consumption. The American Heart Association and the director of the Centers for Disease Control have also supported such taxes, which are bitterly fought by beverage manufacturers.

Yes, added taxes make sense. But more important is parental control. Don’t keep sugary drinks in the house. Lobby school districts to stop stocking those drinks in campus machines. Switch to diet soda or, better yet, water. You can’t beat the price on that.

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