Sweetened beverages target of health campaign

Nov 29, 2010

Voters may have repealed taxes on sodas, but that’s not scaring away public health leaders.  They’re urging parents to keep their kids away from sodas and other sugary drinks this holiday season.  It’s part of an overall effort to combat obesity. 

More and more, sugary beverages are part of America’s diet.  Among children, they are the number three source of calories, after pizza and sweetened baked goods, says Dr. Jim Krieger of Public Health Seattle & King County.  He is in charge of chronic disease programs. 

Krieger says the evidence is mounting against sugary beverages.  Consumption zoomed upward through the 1980’s and 90’s, at just the same time American’s bodies were ballooning. Now, if you average out per capita consumption, everyone is drinking about a gallon a week.

“Sodas are clearly non-essential, there's no nutritional value, and another remarkable thing about sodas’ action is they seem to bypass the body’s ability to recognize when it’s full,” says Krieger.

By drinking more sweetened drinks, he says, the average American gets an extra 200 calories a day.  That includes sweetened teas, sports drinks, and sweetened waters.

The beverage industry says, all of that still only adds up to about 7% of daily calories.  That’s one reason they oppose the public health campaign. 

“It really isn’t going to have any substantive effect on obesity at all.  It’s just really a waste of taxpayers money,” says Tim Martin, president of the Washington Beverage Association and owner of Harbor Pacific Bottling in Elma. His point is, don’t single out beverages. 

“The real issue is that obesity is a lot more complex than any one product or group of products,” he says. 

For example, there’s the whole couch potato trend, too – where we’re not getting enough physical activity. 

The health department is working on other angles, too – by promoting fruits and vegetables, changes in school menus and more P.E. in schools.  Still, public health leaders are convinced keeping kids away from the sweetened drinks can make a lifetime difference.  Currently their efforts are mostly behind the scenes, and a promotional website.  But they say they’re gearing up to do more next year.