Facts, Stats and Dangers of Soda Pop
are heavy consumers of soft drinks, according to the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, and they are guzzling soda pop at unprecedented
soda pop provides more added sugar in a typical 2-year-old toddler's
diet than cookies, candies and ice cream combined.
percent of 8-year-olds down soft drinks daily, and a third of
teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda pop per day.
only are soft drinks widely available everywhere, from fast
food restaurants to video stores, they're now sold in 60 percent
of all public and private middle schools and high schools nationwide,
according to the National Soft Drink Association. A few schools
are even giving away soft drinks to students who buy school
soda pop becomes the beverage of choice among the nation's young
-- and as soda marketers focus on brand-building among younger
and younger consumers -- public health officials, school boards,
parents, consumer groups and even the soft drink industry are
faced with nagging questions:
representatives of the soft drink industry, concerned that public
opinion and public policy may turn against them, will staged
a three-day "fly-in" to lobby Congress to maintain
soft drinks sales in schools; and to educate lawmakers on the
"proper perspective" on soft drink use.
industry plans to counter a US Department of Agriculture proposal,
announced in January, that would require all foods sold in schools
to meet federal nutrition standards. That would mean that snack
foods and soft drinks would have to meet the same standards
as school lunches.
everyone by now has heard the litany on the presumed health
effects of soft drinks:
does drinking soda pop really cause those things?
help separate fact from fiction, the Health section reviewed
the latest scientific findings and asked an array of experts
on both sides of the debate to weigh in on the topic. Be forewarned,
however: Compared with the data available on tobacco and even
dietary fat, the scientific evidence on soft drinks is less
developed. The results can be a lot like soft drinks themselves,
both sweet and sticky.
very recent, independent, peer-reviewed study demonstrates a
strong link between soda consumption and childhood obesity.
previous industry-supported, unpublished study showed no link.
Explanations of the mechanism by which soda may lead to obesity
have not yet been proved, though the evidence for them is strong.
people have long assumed that soda -- high in calories and sugar,
low in nutrients -- can make kids fat. But until this month
there was no solid, scientific evidence demonstrating this.
in The Lancet, a British medical journal, a team of Harvard
researchers presented the first evidence linking soft drink
consumption to childhood obesity. They found that 12-year-olds
who drank soft drinks regularly were more likely to be overweight
than those who didn't.
each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened soft drink
consumed during the nearly two-year study, the risk of obesity
increased 1.6 times.
experts called the Harvard findings important and praised the
study for being prospective. In other words, the Harvard researchers
spent 19 months following the children, rather than capturing
a snapshot of data from just one day. It's considered statistically
more valuable to conduct a study over a long period of time.
found that schoolchildren who drank soft drinks consumed almost
200 more calories per day than their counterparts who didn't
down soft drinks. That finding helps support the notion that
we don't compensate well for calories in liquid form.
one health effect that even the soft drink industry admits,
grudgingly, has merit. In a carefully worded statement, the
NSDA says that "there's no scientific evidence that consumption
of sugars per se has any negative effect other than dental caries."
But the association also correctly notes that soft drinks aren't
the sole cause of tooth decay.
fact, a lot of sugary foods, from fruit juices to candy and
even raisins and other dried fruit, have what dentists refer
to as "cariogenic properties," which is to say they
can cause tooth decay.
so how many more cavities are soft drink consumers likely to
get compared with people who don't drink soda? This is where
it gets complicated.
federally funded study of nearly 3,200 Americans 9 to 29 years
old conducted between 1971 and 1974 showed a direct link between
tooth decay and soft drinks. Numerous other studies have shown
the same link throughout the world, from Sweden to Iraq.
sugar isn't the only ingredient in soft drinks that causes tooth
problems. The acids in soda pop are also notorious for etching
tooth enamel in ways that can lead to cavities. "Acid begins
to dissolve tooth enamel in only 20 minutes," notes the
Ohio Dental Association in a release issued earlier this month.
stimulant properties and dependence potential of caffeine in
soda are well documented, as are their effects on children.
tried going without your usual cup of java on the weekend? If
so, you may have experienced a splitting headache, a slight
rise in blood pressure, irritability and maybe even some stomach
well-documented symptoms describe the typical withdrawal process
suffered by about half of regular caffeine consumers who go
without their usual dose.
soft drink industry agrees that caffeine causes the same effects
in children as adults, but officials also note that there is
wide variation in how people respond to caffeine. The simple
solution, the industry says, is to choose a soda pop that is
caffeine-free. All big soda makers offer products with either
low or no caffeine.
may be a good idea, though it raises the question of whether
soda machines in schools should be permitted to offer caffeinated
beverages or at least be obligated to offer a significant proportion
of caffeine-free products.
also raises the question of how one determines a product's caffeine
content. Nutrition labels are not required to divulge that information.
If a beverage contains caffeine, it must be included in the
ingredient list, but there's no way to tell how much a beverage
has, and there's little logic or predictability to the way caffeine
is deployed throughout a product line.
so most enlightened consumers already know that colas contain
a fair amount of caffeine. It turns out to be 35 to 38 milligrams
per 12-ounce can, or roughly 28 percent of the amount found
in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. But few know that diet colas --
usually chosen by those who are trying to dodge calories and/or
sugar -- often pack a lot more caffeine.
12-ounce can of Diet Coke, for example, has about 42 milligrams
of caffeine -- seven more than the same amount of Coke Classic.
A can of Pepsi One has about 56 milligrams of caffeine -- 18
milligrams more than both regular Pepsi and Diet Pepsi.
harder to figure out is the caffeine distribution in other flavors
of soda pop. Many brands of root beer contain no caffeine. An
exception is Barq's, made by the Coca-Cola Co., which has has
23 milligrams per 12-ounce can. Sprite, 7-Up and ginger ale
are caffeine-free. But Mountain Dew, the curiously named Mello
Yellow, Sun Drop Regular, Jolt and diet as well as regular Sunkist
orange soda all pack caffeine.
occurs naturally in kola nuts, an ingredient of cola soft drinks.
But why is this drug, which is known to create physical dependence,
added to other soft drinks?
industry line is that small amounts are added for taste, not
for the drug's power to sustain demand for the products that
contain it. Caffeine's bitter taste, they say, enhances other
flavors. "It has been a part of almost every cola -- and
pepper-type beverage -- since they were first formulated more
than 100 years ago," according to the National Soft Drink
recent blind taste tests conducted by Roland Griffiths at Johns
Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore found that only 8
percent of regular soft drink consumers could identify the difference
between regular and caffeine-free soft drinks.
study included only subjects who reported that they drank soft
drinks mainly for their caffeine content. In other words, more
than 90 percent of the self-diagnosed caffeine cravers in this
small sample could not detect the presence of caffeine.
why the great popularity of caffeinated soft drinks is driven
not so much by subtle taste effects as by the mood-altering
and physical dependence of caffeine that drives the daily self-administration.
the unknown could be especially troublesome for the developing
brains of children and adolescents. Logic dictates that when
you are dependent on a drug, you are really upsetting the normal
balances of neurochemistry in the brain. The fact that kids
have withdrawal signs and symptoms when the caffeine is stopped
is a good indication that something has been profoundly disturbed
in the brain.
where that leads is anybody's guess -- which is to say there
is little good research on the effects of caffeine on kids'
studies demonstrate that phosphorus, a common ingredient in
soda, can deplete bones of calcium.
two recent human studies suggest that girls who drink more soda
are more prone to broken bones. The industry denies that soda
plays a role in bone weakening.
studies -- mostly involving rats -- point to clear and consistent
bone loss with the use of cola beverages. But as scientists
like to point out, humans and rats are not exactly the same.
so, there's been concern among the research community, public
health officials and government agencies over the high phosphorus
content in the US diet. Phosphorus -- which occurs naturally
in some foods and is used as an additive in many others -- appears
to weaken bones by promoting the loss of calcium. With less
calcium available, the bones become more porous and prone to
soft drink industry argues that the phosphoric acid in soda
pop contributes only about 2 percent of the phosphorus in the
typical US diet, with a 12-ounce can of soda pop averaging about
growing concern that even a few cans of soda today can be damaging
when they are consumed during the peak bone-building years of
childhood and adolescence. A 1996 study published in the Journal
of Nutrition by the FDA's Office of Special Nutritionals noted
that a pattern of high phosphorus/low calcium consumption, common
in the American diet, is not conducive to optimizing peak bone
mass in young women.
1994 Harvard study of bone fractures in teenage athletes found
a strong association between cola beverage consumption and bone
fractures in 14-year-old girls. The girls who drank cola were
about five times more likely to suffer bone fractures than girls
who didn't consume soda pop.
to many researchers, the combination of rising obesity and bone
weakening has the potential to synergistically undermine future
health. Adolescents and kids don't think long-term. But what
happens when these soft-drinking people become young or middle-aged
adults and they have osteoporosis, sedentary living and obesity?
that time, switching to water, milk or fruit juice may be too
little, too late.
Post February 27, 2001; Page HE10