Thursday, February 14, 2013

Which Came first, Big Gulp or Couch Potato?

Mayor Bloomberg’s scratched proposal to ban “big-gulp” over-sized sodas from New York restaurants sparked predictable public objections from the highly profitable soda industry.  Bans like this would mean the soda industry is “being demonized and discriminated against” said Steve Cahillane, president and CEO of Coca-Cola Company’s Refreshments unit.*  Demons aside, the soda industry has a point

There is a lot more to the obesity epidemic than the amount of sugary soda children and adults are drinking.  Although, ask any dietitian and they’ll tell you that one of the best ways to cut calories is by switching from soda to water. But colas were around when your great-grandparents stopped for lunch, and there were far fewer obese Americans in the early 1900’s.

Here are some differences between their generation and ours, all of which may be contributing to the obesity epidemic:

  • 1.      The amount of time the average American child or adult spent sitting in front of a TV, radio, computer, or video game vs. the amount of time they were up and moving around.
  • 2.      The size of the soda they were drinking, and the ratio of soda to water, milk or other beverages in their daily diets.
  • 3.      How many advertisements for junk food they saw or heard in a day. How many fast food restaurants they passed in a day, or week.
  • 4.      How far they walked in a week, and the access to safe sidewalks and roadside pathways compared to today. The use of bicycles as transportation, especially among the young.
  • 5.      Frequency of meals eaten at home, cooked by a parent from fresh produce , whole grains, and locally sourced meat, fish, and eggs. No matter whether they lived in a city or in a rural area.

So you see, it wasn’t JUST the size of the drink. It was the size of every portion, the quality of food, the family making time to cook and eat together, the amount of non-chair time in a day, and the freedom from a constant bombardment of junk-food marketing. The soda industry does have a point, obesity isn’t all their fault by any means.

But they’re also missing the point. Huge portions of empty calories are a major contributor to obesity. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine reported in 2010* that “Preload experiments generally have found that sweet taste, whether delivered by sugar or artificial sweeteners, enhanced human appetite.” They noted that people’s “food reward pathways”… the things that stimulate our brains and appetites, were only partially rewarded, leaving diet soda drinkers craving more calories and more sweet flavors. 

To cite Coca Cola Inc.’s pro-active anti-obesity measures, Cahillane told the Associated Press  "We're offering more and more diets and lights and we're spending more and more of our money advertising diets and lights to give people a choice to bring their calorie count down."  More money advertising soda, that’s their contribution? Um, thanks?

Sorry soda industry, but as a nutritional wellness ambassador I wish your “big gulp” drinks would go away... from lack of interest! Soda, is one of the worst “red light foods” and should be considered a when-all-else-fails (and there’s no beer, or drinkable water) choice. Still, if Bloomberg HAD banned large soda drinks, would New Yorkers stop getting fat and out of shape? Of course not. Plus, it treads shaky legal ground. The silver lining is, we got people’s attention. I hope kids were listening, because informing children of soda’s downside, especially when this news is not just from parents, is a great idea.


~ images courtesy

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