Despite Efforts, Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Are Still a Major Health Concern

***UPDATED: November 27, 2017*** New data analysis shows that consumption of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has actually decreased for both children and adults between the years of 2003 and 2014. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined data on 18,600 children aged 2-19 and 27,652 adults aged 20 or older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, according to a recent article from the Dental Tribune. While the numbers were encouraging, the team found that consumption is still high among adolescents and young adults, in particular those among black, Mexican-American and non-Mexican Hispanic populations.

“SSBs are a leading source of added sugar to the diet for adults and children in the U.S. and their consumption is strongly linked to obesity,” said first author Prof. Sara Bleich. “Understanding which groups are most likely to consume SSBs is critical for the development of effective approaches to reduce SSB consumption.”

The study, which is the first to present the most recent national data, showed a higher consumption of milk among younger children and an increasing percentage of water drinkers among children and adults; two notable positive trends. Bleich stated that the increase in water consumption was a surprise. “This suggests that messages about drinking non-calorie beverages are having an effect.”

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While the message about the dangers of consuming too much soda has been spreading nationwide, people are still drinking an unhealthy amount of the sweet stuff, according to a recent article from Dentistry Today.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 49.3% of adults and 62.9% of kids consumer at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day. The potentially negative side effects of such a habit are well documented at this point.

“Many studies have shown that an acidic environment in the mouth plays a large role in caries (cavities) development. An increased consumption of sugary drinks increases the frequency and duration of an acidic environment, therefore contributing to increased levels of tooth decay,” said Francisco Ramos-Gomez, DDS, MS, MPH, and professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry. “Over the last few years, the prevalence of dental demineralization (white spot lesions) and erosion has increased, possibly due to the increased consumption of sugary drinks, including soft drinks and juices with other liquids with prolonged exposures. Therefore, not only is sugary drink consumption a public health concern linked in terms of obesity and diabetes, since dental caries is the number one childhood disease currently, good oral health in children becomes a vital focus of paramount relevance,” Ramos-Gomez continued.

It is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that everyone reduce added sugar consumption to less than 10% of total calories per day. However, sugar-sweetened beverages represent about 6.9% of men’s, 6.1% of women’s and a whopping 7.3% of children’s total caloric intake.

The CDC’s definition of sugar-sweetened beverages includes fruit drinks, sweetened bottled waters, sports and energy drinks, sweetened coffees and teas, and of course, soda. It does not include diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, alcohol, or flavored milks.

Unfortunately, education alone has not had a large enough effect on the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, leaving many city and state governments to take matters into their own hands. In an effort to curb consumption and improve public health, several areas have begun to tax these beverages. The City of Berkeley in California has added a one-cent-per-ounce tax, while the Philadelphia City Council approved a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax. Other cities with approved taxes include San Francisco, Oakland, Albany, Boulder, and Cook County, Illinois.

“We know that education has mostly failed. Educating people to drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages only works to a point. After that, taxing drinks with added sugar, along with putting those taxes toward public health programs, would help far more,” said Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and adjunct professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Sometimes, it takes an unpopular decision to better people’s health.”

It will be interesting to see if other cities follow suit and levy a sugar tax in the name of public health. What do you think? Is a sugar tax the answer?

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