1. Why are our kids drinking so much soda pop?
Soda is everywhere. More than 2.8 million vending machines spew out more than 27 billion soft drinks a year at video stores, gas stations, schools, and more. They are cheap drinks in fast-foods restaurants, movie theaters, virtually everywhere. They’re sold in 60% of public schools. Some school districts even receive money from soda pop companies to sell certain pops exclusively in their vending machines. And our kids are being bombarded with the best and most clever advertising in the world. While pop manufacturers spent $549 million advertising pop last year, the National Cancer Institute spends less than $1 million encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s no wonder our kids are drinking pop and leaving their broccoli on the plate.

2. How many soft drinks are our kids drinking today?
Manufacturers pumped out 15 billion gallons of soda pop last year, or 54 gallons for every man, woman, and child – that’s more than 19 ounces a day. This is twice as much as we consumed back in the 1970s. While this averages about 1 ½ cans per person per day, many of us aren’t drinking any at all, while our children are drinking more than their share. According to USDA, American children between the ages of 12 and 19 consume about a half quart of pop a day or 3.5 quarts a week.

3. Is all that soda pop so bad for us?
For example, does it increase a child’s likelihood of getting fat? Chubby isn’t cute on kids anymore. Today it’s called childhood or “pediatric” obesity and it’s the number one nutrition-related health problem for our kids. One in four children in this country is overweight or obese, a statistic that has more than doubled in the past two decades (super-obesity is up 98%). There is every reason to believe this trend will continue; in fact it will probably get worse unless we make serious changes in our lifestyles. Does soft drink consumption have anything to do with this trend? Granted, children’s weight problem is a complicated issue, but junk food definitely plays a role. In a study from the University of Minnesota, researchers found that the more highly-refined foods a person eats, the higher the calorie intake and the lower the intake of vitamins, minerals, and other health-enhancing compounds. Children are consuming 8% of their calories from soft drinks, which is an enormous amount of wasted calories! According to a study from Harvard School of Public Health (Lancet 2001;357), children’s weight problems were directly proportional to how many soft drinks they drank.

4. Is it the calories in soda pop that encourages weight gain?
Yes, but there’s more to it than just calories. Evidence is accumulating that our bodies don’t compensate for calories in beverages by eating less later. So, a child who drinks a soda pop will eat the same amount of food, say pizza, he would have eaten without the pop, and ends up consuming more calories. The Harvard study found that kids who drink soda pop consume about 200 extra calories a day and a study from the University of Minnesota also found that children who drink daily as little as 9 ounces of pop consume 188 calories more every day than children who don’t drink pop. In less than three weeks, that child has consume the excess calorie equivalent of one pound of body fat.

5. Even in spite of the calories, that much sugar can’t be good for us.
According to the latest statistics from USDA, children are consuming up to 158 pounds of sugar a year, averaging about 29 tsps a day (but some consume up to 40 tsps of sugar a day). Pop is a big contributor here.

  • A 12-ounce cola has about 10 tsps. of sugar and 150 calories.
  • A large cola (32 ounces) has 310 calories and 26 tsps. of sugar!
  • Sunkist orange soda (12-ounce can) has 13 tsp.
  • Mountain Dew (12-ounce can) has almost 12 tsp.

And, don’t think you’re doing you child a favor by switching to some of these trendy pops:

  • A 20-ounce serving of Strawberry Passion Awareness Fruitopia packs in almost 18 tsp. of sugar.
  • Gatorade (1 cup) has 3 ½ tsp.
  • Arizona Original Iced Tea with lemon flavor (1 cup) has 6 ½ tsp.
  • Tropicana Twister Orange Raspberry (1 cup) has 6 ½ tsp.
  • Snapple Pink Lemonade (1 cup) has almost 7 tsp.

The only proven link between this excessive sugar intake and health is with tooth decay. Soda pop is of particular concern here, since the acids in pop begin dissolving down tooth enamel within 20 minutes.

When it comes to sugar, the biggest concern is that every time a child reaches for soda pop, that child is missing the opportunity to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat milk, and other foods that reduce his/her risk for developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and obesity later in life. One study from Tulane University in New Orleans reported that children who ate lots of sugar consumed significantly lower amounts of protein, vitamin E, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. A study from the American Association of Pediatrics reports that 99 out of 100 children in this country do not get enough of the fruits and vegetables. So, even if sugar isn’t directly linked to disease, consuming too much could be undermining your children’s health today and in the future.

6. There are some hidden risks for our children’s bones, right?
Yes. Two to three decades ago, our children drank twice as much milk as soft drinks. By the mid-1990s, that stat was reversed; our kids were consuming twice as much soft drinks as milk. While more than 60% of teenagers report drinking soda pop, just half drink milk. Only one in every five children meet even minimum standards for calcium consumption. The average teenage girl today gets about 40% less calcium than she needs to build bones that will be resistant to osteoporosis later in life. Less bone also might raise the risk for bone fractures in childhood. Several studies show an association between cola consumption and increased risk for bone fractures in teenage girls. But, not only do soft drinks replace calcium-rich beverages, they also add phosphorus to the diet, which depletes bones of calcium.

7. Is the caffeine in pop harmful?
We all know caffeine in a stimulant. While adults drink coffee, kids drinking cola are getting the same stimulant effect from this drug. In fact, the average teenage boy is downing enough caffeine from pop to equal a half cup of coffee a day. Colas contain a fair share of caffeine, or 35 to 39mg per 12-ounce can of cola. Diet colas contain even more, or about 42 to 56mg. Non-colas also can contain caffeine, such as Mountain Dew, Sun Drop Regular, Sunkist Orange Soda, Kick, Surge, and Jolt. They also experience the same signs of dependency and withdrawal, including altered attention. Granted, cola contains less caffeine than coffee, but when you compare body size, a few ounces of cola is the caffeine-equivalent of a cup of coffee to a small child.

8. So, what do we do to get our children to cut back?
This is an easy one if you’re talking about little kids. The sooner you establish healthy eating habits, the easier it will be to maintain them as the child grows. So, don’t bring pop into the house. If all your child has to choose from is orange juice, milk, and water, then sugar and pop will be moot issues. Maybe set aside special occasions when a pop is OK, like at a baseball game or at a party, but it shouldn’t be a daily routine. Never serve pop with meals, always serve milk or 100% juice. When ordering in fast-food restaurants, allow only milk or OJ as the beverage. Even with a kid’s meal, you can request OJ instead of pop. Model the behavior you want your child to develop. You can’t expect your child to want milk if you’re drinking cola. With teenagers, it’s a different story. They make most of their food choices without you and away from home. Make sure they drink milk at meals when home and encourage them to make good choices when away from home. Don’t nag. Become more active in your school’s lunch program. Actively petition to have only nutritious beverages in vending machines at school. When all else fails, encourage them to drink calorie and caffeine free pop…even then, in moderation.