A gulp of cola tastes just right with a slice of pizza and a smoked meat sandwich goes down nicely with a black cherry soda. I’ll admit to an occasional such indulgence. But for the majority of North Americans having a soft drink is not a rare treat, it’s a common daily habit. And it is not without consequence. The consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has been associated with not only with an increased risk of obesity, but also with an increased risk of cavities, diabetes and heart disease. Although the evidence isn’t conclusive, it rarely is in science, many researchers are convinced enough about the potential harm of excessive sweetened beverage consumption to call for a special tax on such products to discourage sales. Obviously the soft drink and sugar industries are deadly opposed to such a tax and have marshalled their forces to wage war against any such legislation. PepsiCo has even threatened to move its headquarters out of New York state if a proposed 18% tax on soft drinks is implemented. And the industry vigorously attacks any study that suggests a link between any health problem and sweetened beverages and sponsors its own studies, which, guess what, show no harm. The usual message from the industry is that there is no risk to health from any food or beverage as long as these are consumed in moderation. More or less that is true, but soft drink consumption in North America is certainly not moderate, and if anything it is increasing. Given that soft drinks bring no nutritional benefit to the table, and that numerous studies, albeit not all, have linked consumption with health problems, it is time to take steps to discourage the current soft drink gluttony.
And gluttony it is. The average American or Canadian consumes about 200 calories a day from sweetened drinks. That’s about 50 calories more than just twenty years ago. So even if the rest of the diet is the same as back then, the extra 50 calories a day can result in an extra five pounds being put on every year. Arguments have been raised that those calories just displace other calories from the diet. Numerous studies have shown that this is not so. For example when a group of adults were given identical test lunches on six separate occasions either with a sweetened beverage, a non-sweetened one, or with water, there was no difference in the amount of food consumed. Subjects who were given the sweetened beverage just ended up consuming more calories. Obesity isn’t the only issue. The famous ongoing Nurses Health Study in the U.S. found an association between sweetened soft drink consumption and coronary heart disease even when other lifestyle factors were corrected for. This study also showed that the risk of type 2 diabetes among women who consumed one or more servings a day was roughly double the risk when compared with women who consumed less than one serving a month. And among women who got pregnant during the Nurses Health Study, those who consumed five or more servings of sugar sweetened beverages a week had a 22% increased risk of gestational diabetes compared with women who consumed less than one serving a month. So, do we really need any more evidence to look askew at those bath tub size cups of soft drinks each containing up to fifteen teaspoons of sugar? Is there any downside to cutting out sugared soft drinks except as an occasional treat? No. Why not do it then?