Stories about: obesity and soda

Home sweet home? How reducing sugary drinks at home can help teens avoid weight gain

sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain
Eliminating drinks like soda, sports drinks and sugary juices can help prevent extra weight gain.

Given the whirlwind of media around New York’s recent ban on super-sized sugary drinks it’s no surprise to hear that sugar-sweetened beverages add extra calories to our diets—and, ultimately, extra pounds to our bodies. What’s more surprising is just how directly sugar-sweetened beverages impact weight gain, and how keeping zero-calorie drinks in the house can prevent that unnecessary weight from affecting our kids.

Recently, researchers Cara Ebbeling, PhD, (associate director) and David Ludwig, MD, PhD, (director) of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital examined the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain and teen’s home environments. They looked at 224 teens who were either overweight or obese, and who drank sugar-sweetened beverages on a daily basis.

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Soda’s tax-free status: right or oversight?

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg isn’t sugarcoating his views on soda. Citing sugary drinks as a leading cause of obesity, Bloomberg is pushing for legislation that would ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts in the Big Apple.

Under Bloomberg’s proposed law, any sugary drink larger than 16 fluid ounces—smaller than many single serving soda bottles—would be banned at any establishment regulated by New York’s health department. Grocery stores, convenience stores and vending machines wouldn’t be affected.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are proposing new legislation regulating sugary drinks as well, though less drastic than their peers in New York. Currently, food products in Massachusetts are exempt from the state’s standard 6.25 percent sales tax. Governor Deval Patrick is suggesting that soda and candy no longer be exempt from that tax, and the additional money raised—estimated at $51 million each year—go towards new and existing health programs to help combat obesity. Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children and Families, is also proposing a similar legislation.

“The proposal is in the public’s best interest,” says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, who has led the way in researching the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital. “It will reduce exposure to unhealthy food products while raising much-needed funds for obesity prevention and other necessary public measures.”

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Fighting childhood obesity: SNAP v. soda

In the mid 20th century, hunger was a major concern for America’s poor. To better support malnourished families living below the poverty line, the federal government created the Food Stamp Act in 1964 to help provide healthy food to people in need.

America’s nutritional landscape has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Malnourishment is still a big problem in America, but in a much different way than it was back then.

Because of their lower prices and mass availability, unhealthy foods and drinks have become a staple in the diets of millions of Americans. Obesity rates in this country have grown to epidemic levels, with impoverished communities being hit especially hard. In low-income homes across the country, overweight and obese children now outnumber underweight kids by a ratio of seven to one.

To combat this epidemic, many states are trying to change what type of items people can buy via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-formerly know as food stamps). Because sugar-sweetened beverages have no nutritional value and have been closely linked with obesity, nine states, including Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and most recently New York, have tried to have these drinks barred from being bought with SNAP money.  In each case the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said no.

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Artificially sweetened beverages: Is it nice to fool Mother Nature?

LUDWIG_2343David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program, just published a commentary in JAMA expressing concern about the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in soft drinks. Below, he offers some insight about why humans naturally crave sweetness, and the potential danger of confusing our ancient biological pathways of hunger and satiation with fake sugars.

Ever since our distant ancestors crawled out of the ocean, animals have been trying to eat plants. In this conflict, animals would seem to have a distinct advantage: we can move about, they can’t. But plants are by no means defenseless against our predations. They protect themselves with thorns, bark and tough fibers; stash their starches in tubers that are difficult to digest (at least when uncooked); encase their most prized possessions, high energy nuts and seeds, in impervious shells; and lace their leaves with bitter, toxic chemicals.

In fact, plants have long taken advantage of animals to help them reproduce. To entice us to serve them, plants have created seed-bearing fruits and infused them with sugar, the gold standard of energy metabolism.

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