Teens and adolescents, when left to their own devices, often make poor choices when it comes to the food and beverages they put in their mouth. Although kids have opportunities to buy junk food outside the home, most of the poor quality foods they eat are found in their home. Parents must understand the impact the foods and drinks they buy have on the health of their children.
The Bitter Truth About Sweet Drinks
A report by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale, called Sugary Drink F.A.C.T.S. (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score), unveiled how much of an influence sugary drinks play in the nutrition of today's youth. If you’re interested in reading the full 232-page report, you can download it here. If that’s too much to read, I’ve highlighted some of the most striking facts from the report throughout the article below.[i]
For the purpose of the report, the group defined sugary drinks as regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, flavored water, energy drinks and iced teas that contain added sugar. 100% fruit juice was not included in the report, however, other than adding a small amount of vitamins and minerals, fruit juice is a poor replacement for the sugary drinks discussed below. The italicized text comes straight from the report, with more commentary added to it.
Sugary Drink Facts
According to the report findings, soda consumption is the top source of calories in the diets of teens. No protein, no healthy fat, just pure sugar, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
Adults may look at normal-weight kids and justify allowing them to drink these beverages. For most people, the effects of excessive sugar consumption don’t happen overnight. It can take years for the body to become insulin resistant. Other than weight gain, insulin resistance is associated with diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and other health complications.
Most parents won’t allow their kids to smoke tobacco, knowing the risk of cancer, yet the consumption of just one sugar beverage a day, a serving size less than half of what kids typically drink, increases the odds of obesity by 60%.
As parents, we often do our best to keep our kids from being exposed to unhealthy or dangerous influences, yet, as the F.A.C.T.S. report explained,
These beverage companies can be very influential over our kids. You might look at some of these issues and say “I don’t buy this stuff for my kids, so this doesn’t apply to me.” If that’s true, that’s great. But, the reality is average consumption in the Unites States is more than three 8 ounce servings of soft drinks, fruit drinks, teas, sports drinks, enhanced water and energy drinks every day.
If you’re not drinking it, and I’m not drinking it, someone else is drinking far more than average to. You don’t have to preach to others, but you can look for opportunities to warn them about the potential outcome from drinking these beverages.
If you’re kids aren’t drinking these beverages, than most definitely their friends are as soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the primary source of added sugar in American's diet.
Is one serving a day really that big a deal? The average serving size has increased from 6.5 fluid ounces in the 1950s to 13 ounces in 1996 to 20 ounces today! This adds up to 45 grams of sugar in a 12 ounce can and 75 grams in a 20 ounce bottle.
A whopping 75 grams of sugar in a typical bottle! If you wanted to consume that many carbohydrates from broccoli, you’d have to eat 4½ pounds! If that’s too much, you could also eat 1½ pounds of raspberries. Of course with either, you’d also be getting fiber, vitamins and minerals. Instead of increasing the risk of developing cancer from the extra sugar[ii], you’d be reducing the risk of cancer from the phytonutrients and antioxidants found vegetables and fruit.
Energy Drink Facts
Energy drinks have some unique properties, different from just the caffeine and sugar found in soft drinks.
Ingredients such as taurine, ginseng, and other herbs have can have an unpleasant taste that sugar itself can’t even mask. That’s likely why you can find both sugar and artificial sweeteners in the same can or bottle. Teenagers are the most frequent consumers of energy drinks, a section of the population that often lacks enough sleep. For those who use energy drinks, it’s no wonder they would have disrupted sleep.
The real risk for teens is forming a dependence or an addiction to energy drinks. The side effects teenagers may experience from energy drinks can range from stomach upset, irritability, sleep disruption, blood pressure changes and even heart arrhythmias for those sensitive to stimulants. The health hazards of energy drinks are especially worrisome for those with ADHD, diabetes or pre-existing heart conditions.
Misleading Health Claims
Food companies push the limits with the health claims on their labels, which misleads unknowing consumers, leaving them thinking they’re buying something healthy for themselves or their families.
Metabolically speaking, “natural” sugar is not better then the alternatives. Yet, most people who see the “natural” claim on sugary drinks think they’re healthier. Energy drinks average more than two “health” claims per bottle, even though the claims made are not well justified. Sports drinks can be equally, or even more convincing of their “healthiness.” Sugary sports drinks serve little value for youth, except for those in long-duration, high-intensity sports like soccer, football and rugby.
Soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and fruit juice are water and sugar. They also may have some extra, suspect ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, caffeine and other stimulants. As adults, we have a responsibility for the welfare of our children. Though we cannot always control what they have outside our homes, we have 100% control over what we buy at the grocery store. Since the majority of the food and drink kids have each week is at home, make it a point to leave these beverages on the grocery store shelves. There is no logical reason to buy them.
[i] Yale Rudd Center For Food Policy & Obesity. Sugar Drink F.A.C.T.S.: Evaluating Sugary Drink Nutrition and Marketing to Youth. October 2011. http://www.sugarydrinkfacts.org/resources/SugaryDrinkFACTS_Report.pdf
[ii] Klement RJ, Kammerer U. Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer? Nutr & Metab. 2011;8:75