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Diet and Nutrition

Soft Drinks ... Worth the Calories?

The American Heart Association has issued a recommendation for Americans to decrease their intake of added sugars. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, lemonade, and fruit drinks are the chief source of added sugars. In fact, soft drinks account for more than one-fourth of Americans beverage consumption and are the single largest source of refined sugars in the American diet. Children start drinking soft drinks at a surprisingly young age, and consumption increases through young adulthood. The potential link between soft drink consumption and obesity has spurred the development of action plans to limit students' intake of carbonated beverages. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that soft drinks be eliminated from all schools, particularly elementary schools.

Some school districts prohibit the sale of carbonated drinks during school hours.

In response to parents' rebellions, some school districts have discontinued their contracts with soft drink companies. However, it is a difficult decision for schools due to the loss of funding from sales and from exclusive contracts with the companies.

A pilot program in a large inner-city San Diego school limited soft drinks to 20% of beverage vending machine slots and offered healthier options in the other slots, with all beverages selling for $1.00. Results showed that sale of water, milk, fruit juice, smoothies, and sport drinks increased to 88% of all beverages, while soft drink sales dropped to 12%.

Other schools are initiating nutrition education programs to discourage the consumption of soft drinks. A study in England found that a one-year Ditch the Fizz campaign, discouraging both sweetened and diet soft drinks, led to a decrease in the percentage of elementary school children who were overweight or obese. The improvement occurred after a modest reduction in consumption, less than a can a day. This was the first controlled study to document that school programs discouraging carbonated drinks appear to be effective in reducing obesity among children. If a simple targeted message aimed at kids can decrease development of obesity, by whatever means, that's groundbreaking, said Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital in Boston. Hopefully, larger studies with more intensive interventions will show even more beneficial effects.

REMEMBER: Soft drinks provide empty calories and about 10 teaspoons of sugar in every 12-ounce can. Also, soft drinks often replace more nutritious foods and beverages. So the next time you are standing in front of a vending machine ... make a wise choice and avoid the soft drinks!

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Last Reviewed: Jan 24, 2011

Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD
Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati