At any given lunch period at Old Union Elementary School in Southlake, Texas, 28 cans of carbonated soda (many wrapped in foil to keep cool) are being consumed amongst 106 third graders. In other words, 26% of the class is drinking soda at lunch. By the end of the day, 60% of all the third graders will have consumed at least one soda. Soft drinks have replaced milk as the drink of choice for these children. As parents we willingly comply, but the health effects to our children, and the financial burden to our health care system will be enormous.
How many sodas do school children drink?
The average teenage boy drinks three cans of soda daily which results in an extra 163,000 calories or 47 pounds a year. The average teenage girl drinks two cans of soda daily, which is the equivalent to 109,200 calories or 31 pounds per year. Ten percent of teenage boys drink seven or more cans of soda daily and 10% of teenage girls drink five or more cans of soda daily. The numbers are astounding. It is no wonder that Americans consume an average of 686 calories of sugars a day—more than a quarter of a typical 2,250 calorie diet.
What are some potential health effects of soda?
When soda is consumed between meals and sipped over a long period of time, sugar remains in the mouth for prolonged periods of time, increasing the risk of cavities. More shocking is the impact soda consumption has on increasing obesity rates, hyperactivity, osteoporosis, dietary deficiencies, and caffeine dependence in children.
Obesity is the single largest problem associated with soda consumption. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes sodas are a major source of daily excess calories and a major cause for the increased obesity rates in children and teenagers. Researchers in California found that 58% of students who drank three or more soft drinks (diet or regular) per day were overweight compared with 33% of students who drank less than three soft drinks per day. Most sodas include over 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of sugar. (Soft drink manufacturers are the largest single users of refined sugar in the United States.) Sugar increases insulin levels which can increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. A 12-ounce can of cola has 150 calories and the equivalent of almost a Â¼ cup of sugar. A 20-ounce cola has 250 calories and the equivalent of 1/3 cup sugar.
For some kids, sugar is a major factor in mood, behaviour and attention patterns. It has been demonstrated that destructive, aggressive and restless behaviour correlates directly with the amount of sugar consumed on a daily basis. Hyperactivity, often diagnosed as ADHD, has a direct correlation with diets high in processed foods, sugar and food additives.
Calcium is critical to the physical structure and healthy functioning of the human body. It is necessary for transmitting nerve impulses and regulating muscle contraction. Calcium is the primary mineral in your body that makes up your bones and keeps them strong. Ninety percent of the human body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. The need for calcium starts with infancy and continues throughout one’s life. If your diet is deficient in calcium, your body will take what it needs from your bones. The result, osteoporosis, is a reduction in bone density that leaves bones more porous, fragile, and susceptible to fractures.
Children are not getting enough calcium in their diet, in large part because they are drinking soda instead of milk. Drinking soda adversely affects calcium absorption. The phosphoric acid in soda neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which then adversely affects digestion and the body’s ability to absorb calcium. In the United States, children have traditionally consumed much of their calcium from milk. But children are drinking less milk and school purchases reflect this trend. From 1985 to 1997, school districts decreased the amount of milk they bought by nearly 30% and increased purchases of soda by 1,100%. Today in fact, 56% to 85% of school age children consume at least one soft drink daily.
Unfortunately, the problem extends beyond young children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 13.5% of girls and 36.3% of boys age 12 to 19 in the United States get the recommended daily amount of calcium, placing them at serious risk for osteoporosis and other bone diseases. A recent study from Harvard University reported that teenage girls who drink soda were three times more likely to have a bone fracture than girls who do not, and that physically active girls who drink cola beverages were five times more likely to have had a bone fracture. Compounding this situation is the fact that nearly 90% of adult bone mass is established by 20 years of age. It would seem the nation’s youth are in the midst of a calcium crisis.
Cola is the most popular soda flavour in the United States. With exceptions, most colas contain between 35-55 milligrams of caffeine per 12 fluid ounces. Caffeine, a diuretic, is the second most common cause of calcium loss (sodium is first) from the body. To minimize calcium loss through the urine, it is recommended that daily caffeine intake from all foods for school age children is not more than 85 milligrams per day. For adults, it is recommended that caffeine intake does not exceed 300 milligrams per day.
In addition, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, so it can cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and rapid heartbeat. Caffeine is able to penetrate deep into vital tissue. Caffeine has a powerful effect on coronary arteries and the pulmonary and systemic vessels, causing a greater flow of blood to the heart muscle, but decreasing the flow of blood to the brain by constricting cerebral blood vessels. Caffeine can cause abnormally fast, abnormally slow and irregular heartbeats. It also wreaks havoc on blood pressure, commonly producing hypertension. Caffeine has been linked to heart disease, pancreatic and bladder cancer, and hypoglycemia.
The body easily becomes addicted to caffeine which may be one of the reasons soda companies intentionally add it to their products. Due to their smaller size and higher sensitivity, one can of cola for children is equivalent to three cups of instant coffee for an adult. Depending on how much caffeine is consumed daily, an abrupt halt in caffeine intake can lead to symptoms ranging from a simple headache to nausea, drowsiness, depression, and reduced attention span. Even two sodas a day may cause withdrawal symptoms when soda drinking is discontinued. Fortunately, the symptoms tend to be short-lived and most of these can be avoided by cutting back on caffeine gradually.
What about drinking diet soda? Even without sugar, diet soda contains phosphoric acid and caffeine. In addition, diet sodas contain the chemical aspartame. This “non-nutritive” sweetener is 160 to 220 times sweeter than regular white sugar. One 12-ounce diet cola contains 200 milligrams of aspartame, or the equivalent of six blue packets of a sugar substitute. There are over 92 different health effects associated with aspartame consumption including headaches, birth defects, diabetes, emotional disorders and seizures. Airline pilots aren’t allowed to eat foods containing aspartame because it affects their judgement. Is aspartame safe for children? The FDA acknowledges possible side effects from aspartame consumption but conclusive research still needs to be done.