Have you heard the recent news that soft drinks are being linked to diabetes and heart disease? Within the last few days, articles have come out suggesting that drinking soda has led to about 130,000 new cases of diabetes and 14,000 cases of heart disease. Are you surprised? You can read more about it here.
The problem, according to those who ran the study, is not the occasional enjoyment of sugary drinks but the rise in overall consumption. It seems that people are turning to these drinks more often than ever before and drinking more than ever. The recommended amount of daily consumption is about a can a day for men and a little less for women.
Now, I’m reasonably young and I remember when drinks first started being sold everywhere in 20oz bottles. As a kid I remember thinking – wow this is way too much to drink! And having one can was perfectly adequate for a meal. Now, I even find myself expecting “more bang for my buck” when I purchase a beverage. I choose large coffees over small ones and feel that my money is going farther. This portion-control problem is something we see everywhere in America wherever food is sold. We are given more than we should ever consume and, in this economy especially, we feel we are getting a good value. Can we ever reverse this mentality of choosing to supersize something for just a few cents more? I’m not sure.
One thing that really irks me about this information linking soda consumption in particular to diabetes and heart disease – is that Diet Coke is actually a sponsor of women’s heart health! Diet Cokes everywhere are adorned with big red hearts and, last month especially, the American Heart Association’s Heart Month – Diet Coke was mentioned everywhere giving funding to the “Wear Red for Women’s Heart Health” campaign. Does this seem a little backwards to you? It’s a bit like if cigarettes sponsored Lung Cancer awareness or hard liquor companies sponsored sobriety.
I worry most about the increased consumption of soda and unhealthy food because our bodies actually become physically addicted to the properties. We become reprogrammed to crave these unhealthy items and then have more. In this economy, when people are struggling with more financial stress (and, thus, more stress overall) we are more likely to crave these foods - start eating them, then "need" to have them. And, because they are cheaper and more readily available than healthy produce or better snacks – we grab them again and again. Parents who work two jobs to try to feed their families are so tired/busy from working that they, understandably, don’t have time to prepare healthy home-cooked meals. And, if that weren’t enough – due to advertising, kids want these unhealthy foods and drinks. To be honest, why wouldn't people want these drinks and foods? They are engineered to be irresisitible and delicious.
We’re caught up in a few vicious cycles. The scariest part is that it doesn’t just end in unhealthy body weight – it ends in diabetes and heart disease. And you’ll hear people say – put down the soda and drink water! Go have an apple instead of chips! – But it’s not that easy. Food companies have gotten very tricky in how they advertise products at the supermarket. Some are marked as “healthy choices” because they are low in fat but are actually extremely high in sugar. The saddest part is that so many parents will think they are purchasing something that’s actually good for their kids, when, in fact, they are still giving them something that’s not healthy. It’s not right.
One solution I see is expanding the FDA. The FDA is responsible for too many tasks that they can’t do them all well. They are overworked and understaffed. We need to increase their impact and control over what’s being sold to us every day. And, in addition – as consumers we need to get educated! We need to be skeptical consumers and do our research.
I’m curious – what do you think?