The Problem: Sugary Drinks Are a Major Contributor to the Obesity Epidemic
Two out of three adults and one out of three children in the United States are overweight or obese, (1,2) and the nation spends an estimated $190 billion a year treating obesity-related health conditions. (3) Rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. (4) A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories. A 64-ounce fountain cola drink could have up to 700 calories. (5) People who drink this “liquid candy” do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food and do not compensate by eating less. (6)
Beverage companies in the US spent roughly $3.2 billion marketing carbonated beverages in 2006, with nearly a half billion dollars of that marketing aimed directly at youth ages 2–17. (7) And each year, youth see hundreds of television ads for sugar-containing drinks. In 2010, for example, preschoolers viewed an average of 213 ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks, while children and teens watched an average of 277 and 406 ads, respectively. (8) Yet the beverage industry aggressively rebuffs suggestions that its products and marketing tactics play any role in the obesity epidemic. (9) Adding to the confusion, beverage industry-funded studies are four to eight times more likely to show a finding favorable to industry than independently-funded studies. (10) This fact sheet assembles key scientific evidence on the link between sugary drink consumption and obesity.
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The Evidence: Soft Drink Consumption Is Rising and Harms Health
Sugary drink portion sizes have risen dramatically over the past 40 years, and children and adults are drinking more soft drinks than ever.
- Before the 1950s, standard soft-drink bottles were 6.5 ounces. In the 1950s, soft-drink makers introduced larger sizes, including the 12-ounce can, which became widely available in 1960. (11) By the early 1990s, 20-ounce plastic bottles became the norm. (12) Today, contour-shaped plastic bottles are available in even larger sizes, such as the 1.25-liter (42-ounce) bottle introduced in 2011. (13)
- In the 1970s, sugary drinks made up about 4% of US daily calorie intake; by 2001, that had risen to about 9%. (14)
- Children and youth in the US averaged 224 calories per day from sugary beverages in 1999 to 2004—nearly 11% of their daily calorie intake. (15) From 1989 to 2008, calories from sugary beverages increased by 60% in children ages 6 to 11, from 130 to 209 calories per day, and the percentage of children consuming them rose from 79% to 91%. (16)
- On any given day, half the people in the U.S. consume sugary drinks; 1 in 4 get at least 200 calories from such drinks; and 5% get at least 567 calories—equivalent to four cans of soda. (17) Sugary drinks (soda, energy, sports drinks) are the top calorie source in teens’ diets (226 calories per day), beating out pizza (213 calories per day). (18)
Sugary drinks increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gout.
- A 20-year study on 120,000 men and women found that people who increased their sugary drink consumption by one 12-ounce serving per day gained more weight over time—on average, an extra pound every 4 years—than people who did not change their intake. (19) Other studies have found a significant link between sugary drink consumption and weight gain in children. (20) One study found that for each additional 12-ounce soda children consumed each day, the odds of becoming obese increased by 60% during 1½ years of follow-up. (21)
- People who consume sugary drinks regularly—1 to 2 cans a day or more—have a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely have such drinks. (22) Risks are even greater in young adults and Asians.
- A study that followed 40,000 men for two decades found that those who averaged one can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack than men who rarely consumed sugary drinks. (23) A related study in women found a similar sugary beverage–heart disease link. (24)
- A 22-year study of 80,000 women found that those who consumed a can a day of sugary drink had a 75% higher risk of gout than women who rarely had such drinks. (25) Researchers found a similarly-elevated risk in men. (26)
Cutting back on sugary drinks can help people control their weight.
- Studies in children and adults have found that reducing sugary drink consumption can lead to better weight control among those who are initially overweight. (27,28)
1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999-2010. JAMA. 2012;307:483-90.
2. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among US adults, 1999-2010. JAMA. 2012;307:491-7.
3. Cawley J, Meyerhoefer C. The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. J Health Econ. 2012;31:219-30.
4. Institute of Medicine. Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2012.
5. US Department of Agriculture. Nutrient data for 14400, Carbonated beverage, cola, contains caffeine. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. 2012. Accessed June 21, 2012, http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4337
6. Pan A, Hu FB. Effects of carbohydrates on satiety: differences between liquid and solid food. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14:385-90.
7. US Federal Trade Commission. Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation. Washington, DC: US Federal Trade Commission; 2008.
8. Harris J, Schwartz MB, Brownell KD, et al. Sugary Drink FACTS: Evaluating Sugary Drink Nutrition and Marketing to Youth. New Haven, CT: Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity; 2011.
9. Coca-Cola: Don’t blame us for obesity epidemic! The New York Daily News June 8, 2012.
10. Lesser LI, Ebbeling CB, Goozner M, Wypij D, Ludwig DS. Relationship between funding source and conclusion among nutrition-related scientific articles. PLoS Med. 2007;4:e5.
11. The Coca-Cola Company. History of Bottling. Accessed June 21, 2012, http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/ourcompany/historybottling.html
12. Jacobson M. Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans’ Health. Washignton, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest; 2005.
13. The Coca-Cola Company. 1.25 For 125! New 1.25 Liter Coca-Cola Package Rolls Out as Part of Brand’s 125th Anniversary Celebration 2011. Accessed June 25, 2012, http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/dynamic/press_center/2011/05/125-for-125.html
14. Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Changes in beverage intake between 1977 and 2001. Am J Prev Med. 2004;27:205-10.
15. Wang YC, Bleich SN, Gortmaker SL. Increasing caloric contribution from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices among US children and adolescents, 1988-2004. Pediatrics. 2008;121:e1604-14.
16. Lasater G, Piernas C, Popkin BM. Beverage patterns and trends among school-aged children in the US, 1989-2008. Nutr J. 2011;10:103.
17. Ogden CL, Kit BK, Carroll MD, Park S. Consumption of sugar drinks in the United States, 2005-2008<. NCHS Data Brief. 2011:1-8.
18. National Cancer Institute. Mean Intake of Energy and Mean Contribution (kcal) of Various Foods Among US Population, by Age, NHANES 2005–06. Accessed June 21, 2012, http://riskfactor.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/
19. Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392-404.
20. Malik VS, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and BMI in children and adolescents: reanalyses of a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:438-9; author reply 9-40.
21. Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet. 2001;357:505-8.
22. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010;33:2477-83.
23. de Koning L, Malik VS, Kellogg MD, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption, incident coronary heart disease, and biomarkers of risk in men. Circulation. 2012;125:1735-41, S1.
24. Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1037-42.
25. Choi HK, Willett W, Curhan G. Fructose-rich beverages and risk of gout in women. JAMA. 2010;304:2270-8.
26. Choi HK, Curhan G. Soft drinks, fructose consumption, and the risk of gout in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2008;336:309-12.
27. Ebbeling CB, Feldman HA, Osganian SK, Chomitz VR, Ellenbogen SJ, Ludwig DS. Effects of decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on body weight in adolescents: a randomized, controlled pilot study. Pediatrics. 2006;117:673-80.
28. Tate DF, Turner-McGrievy G, Lyons E, et al. Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:555-63.
The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.
The power of brands is something no one nowadays (at least no one sane) would deny. Several decades ago, brands would attract customers with established reputations, clever advertising, and the quality of what they produced; currently, brands declare and promote values, and those whom these values appeal to become loyal customers of one brand or another. And there are brands that have already been long enough on the market to be renowned and trusted, and which never disdain from new marketing and advertising trends; such brands possess a double power: the power of tradition and history, and the power of modern technologies.
Such brands are numerous, and people consume many goods produced by them without even critically evaluating the value, purpose, and reason of such consumption. For example, instead of seeing into a number of cell phone models present on the market and choosing the one most suitable for their needs, an average customer simply goes for an iPhone, just because he or she knows that “it’s a good phone.” But how do they know if they have supposedly never tried it out before? The answer is advertising and the power of branding: Apple markets its devices extremely cleverly, turning them into something similar to an apple (pun intended) from the Eden knowledge tree.
Or, let us take Pepsi: people who want caffeinated soda just go and buy Pepsi; they do not need to think twice, because marketologists, advertising agencies, and the communications this brand constructs have already determined these people’s choices. But if you ask, “Why have you chosen Pepsi specifically? How is it different from other competitors such as Coca-Cola?” The answer will most likely be unintelligible, because there are no specific reasons to choose Pepsi over Coke, or vice versa.
Speaking of Coca-Cola and other soda drinks similar to it, the power of advertising is so great that its consumers rarely or never think about the effects these drinks have on one’s body. Further on in this paper, writing “Coca-Cola” will also mean any other caffeinated soda drink: Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, whatsoever. The truth is that Coca-Cola is able to negatively affect one’s health condition in a number of peculiar ways. Let us take a closer look at what people who drink soda a lot subject themselves to.
Obviously, these drinks contain a lot of caffeine and sugar—which, if consumed regularly and uncontrollable, can lead to a number of diseases such as diabetes. Besides, Coca-Cola and other similar drinks contain Aspartame: an artificial non-saccharide sweetener used instead of sugar. It is funny how people caring about their health buy Cola “without sugar,” thinking they are on the safer side; the irony is that Aspartame used in such drinks is more harmful than sugar: in several developed countries, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other companies using Aspartame in their products have been sued for using it (Healthy Drinks). Aspartame is highly disparaged for the consumption of children, as it can cause several diseases, obesity and cancer in particular. It is important to mention though that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (as well as health organizations in 90 countries around the world) have found Aspartame safe for consumption.
Speaking of sugar in beverages: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sugary drinks are being regularly consumed by approximately 50% of the United States population; by “regularly” statistics mean any given day. The highest rate of consumed sugary beverages is among teenagers. A regular can of soda is claimed to contain an equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar; at the same time, the amount recommended for daily consumption by the WHO (World Health Organization) equals just six teaspoons maximum, which means that drinking a single can of Pepsi or Coca-Cola means exceeding the advised rate by 1.5 times. Research conducted by Harvard School of Public Health suggests that those who drink up to two cans of soda per day have, on average, a 26% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This, as well as the fact that, according to some research, the overconsumption of sugar causes 184,000 global deaths annually (Medical News Today).
Other negative health effects of drinking Cola include problems with teeth, in particular, dental erosion and dental demineralization, hypersensitivity of teeth, calcium washing out, and ruination of enamel. This, as well as the fact that Coca-Cola drinks contain phosphoric acid and some other dangerous chemical substances, should be enough for a regular consumer to rethink his or her position on drinking soda (Flipper).
People rarely evaluate their consumption critically; most often, their consumption is guided by advertising and brand communication. Even when consumers are well aware of the negative effects of the products they consume, they rarely change their habits. In particular, this tendency applies to Coca-Cola and other sugary beverages: even though they can cause diabetes, heart diseases, problems with teeth, obesity, and even early death, the number of consumers preferring soda over regular water remains high all over the world.
“6 Harmful Effects of Drinking Coca-Cola, Coke, or Pepsi.” Healthy Drinks, www.healthy-drinks.net/6-harmful-effects-of-drinking-coca-cola-coke-or-pepsi/.
Whiteman, Honor. “How Coca-Cola Affects Your Body When You Drink It.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 15 Aug. 2015, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297600.php.
“Coca Cola: Negative Effects.” Flipper, flipper.diff.org/app/items/info/7199.
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