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Heart to Heart Talk

Should soft drinks be banned?

/ 10:59 AM February 04, 2013

IN OUR column on October 12, 2009, we wrote that soft drinks, which I called “liquid candy,” cola or uncola, diet or regular, “are unhealthy, especially for children. Not only because the regular ones are loaded with sugar (high carbo, super calories), but because of the other adverse effects all these soft drinks (without exception!) have on people’s health.”

Ravi Dhingra, MD, clinical instructor in medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, reported that “both diet and regular soft drinks have brutally high acid levels.”

“Drinking more than one soda a day–regular or diet–appears to increase the risk factors for heart disease,” the Framingham Heart Study researchers emphasized.


The following findings of the Harvard research, which we are quoting in full, are a most convincing confirmation and re-affirmation of the other clinical studies in the past:

Risk rises with soda consumption

Harvard Medical School researcher Ravi Dhingra, MD, and study colleagues looked at nearly 6,000 middle-aged men and women who had exams every four years. At the outset, all were free of heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Four years later, in comparison to people who drank less than one soft drink a day, researchers found that those who consumed one or more sodas a day experienced:

A 25 percent increased risk of impaired (or higher than normal) fasting glucose and high triglyceride levels.

A 31 percent greater likelihood of becoming obese.

A 32 percent higher chance of lower HDL levels.

A 44 percent increased risk of metabolic syndrome.

These results were published in the July 31, 2007, issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.


Study results were a surprise

Dr. Dhingra and his colleagues were surprised that regular and diet soft drinks posed similar risks for metabolic syndrome–which remained the case even when the study was adjusted for dietary factors such as saturated and trans fats, calorie and fiber consumption and levels of physical activity. There are several theories as to why this might be–perhaps the extreme sweetness of soft drinks makes people more apt to eat sweet foods, or the caramel content may promote insulin resistance and inflammation. But these are theories, and no one knows for sure. To others though it is now obvious that high acidic levels will help cause these symptoms.

Adverse health effects

Drinking soft drinks of any kind has been linked to the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, lowered calcium and potassium level, heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, dental cavities and nutritional depletion. There is also a claim that it may have an adverse effect on conception. These liquid candies also contain caffeine which could disrupt sleep and lead to anxiety and DNA damage and hyperactivity, especially among children.

The prevalence of obesity among Americans doubled between 1977 to 2001 and this trend was paralleled by a doubling of the consumption of soft drinks. An increase in the body mass index (BMI) of 0.24 kg/meter square was found among children for each (ONE!) soft drink they consumed. Studies on adults (50,000 female nurses on one study) revealed that drinkers of even one can of soft drink led to weight gain, and increased blood sugar among diabetics.

One study reported this interesting finding: “One four-week experiment compared a 450 calorie/day supplement of sugar-sweetened soft drinks to a 450 calorie/day supplement of jelly beans. The jelly bean supplement did not lead to weight gain, but the soft drink supplement did. The likely reason for the difference in weight gain is that people who consumed the jelly beans lowered their caloric intake at subsequent meals while people who consumed soft drinks did not. Thus, the low levels of satiety provided by sugar-sweetened soft drinks may explain their association with obesity. That is, people may who consume calories in sugar-sweetened beverages may fail to adequately reduce their intake of calories from other sources. Indeed, people consume more total calories in meals and on days when they are given sugar-sweetened beverages than when they are given artificially-sweetened beverage or water.”

One alarming report: “In 2003, the Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment published a disputed report finding pesticide levels in Coke and Pepsi soft drinks sold in India at levels 30 times that considered safe by the European Economic Commission.”

Another study showed that those subjects who consumed soft drinks had lower bone mineral density, placing them at increased risk of suffering, not only osteoporosis but bone fractures. More scary is the increased risk for the development of metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, high blood fat, low level of good cholesterol).

It is our government’s role and responsibility to protect our children by not allowing our schools, public or private, to have vending machines that sell soft drinks and other unhealthy products, much like outlawing the vending machines that used to sell cigarettes.

While I believe liberty and freedom of choice in a democracy are our birth right and government intrusion in our personal behavior/habits is abuse of power, I cannot argue the fact that since the seat belt law was enacted (depriving individuals the right to drive without a seat belt), the degree of injuries and incidence of deaths from car accidents have plummeted around the world. The government’s ban on cigarette advertising and laws prohibiting smoking in public areas (restaurants, movies, trains, buses, etc) have likewise greatly benefited the public medically. The ban against using the cell phones while driving is another obviously good law. And there are dozen others.

So, the current admirable attempt by some well-informed legislators to protect our people, especially the children from the very harmful effects of soft drinks by introducing a bill to ban soft drinks is clearly for the people’s well-being, since We, the People, don’t appear to give a damn. Of course, the debate will go on. I only hope science and not politics shall prevail and the victim will not be our people’s health.

The Departments of Health and Education and other agencies concerned must also ensure the public that all schools require a course in nutrition for all students and offer only healthy menus in their cafeteria. After all, a healthy citizenry translates into a healthy nation.

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