We Americans love our Cokes and Mountain Dews. An interactive map, published on Slate magazine this week, illustrates just how much. According to Slate’s source, Euromonitor International, the average resident of the USA consumes 170 liters of soda (or “pop” if you’re a Midwesterner like me) in a year. Only Mexico comes close to our level of consumption, and we still have their measly 146 liters per year beat by 16 percent. USA! USA!
African Americans consume more sugar-sweetened beverages (or SSBs) compared with whites of the same ages, says a report by the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network (AACORN). And black women’s (ages 31 to 50) average daily consumption of calories from SSBs is double that of white females in the same age range.
Folks, we have met the enemy: It’s super sweet and often fizzy.
Studies have shown over consumption of sugar-laden drinks, such as sodas, fruit juices, and sports drinks, can contribute to type 2 diabetes, dental decay, and other chronic illnesses that increasingly plague the country and, disproportionately, the black community. If our affection for sugary liquid plays a part in African America’s failing health, then we may have a tough road ahead. The AACORN study, “Impact of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption on Black Americans’ Health,” reports that black adolescents’ intake of sodas and other sweet beverages is increasing, possibly due, in part, to disproportionate targeting by advertising.
*Climbs up on soap box*
This is why I believe that constant harping on obesity hurts us. It is not so much that we are a nation of Fatty Fat McFatty Jenkins that is killing us. It is our sedentary lifestyles and poor food choices (and stress and lack of affordable health care, but I digress), like drinking 170 liters of soda over a year. In addition to chronic illness, fatness can be (but is not always) the result of not exercising enough or eating right. But we are hyper-focused on obesity, not root causes of overweight and illness. All those skinny high schoolers clutching 20-ounce bottles of orange Crush at the bus stop must be healthy, because they’re not fat (yet).
People looking to take control of their health need better and more concrete guidance than “don’t be fat.”
*Hops down from soap box*
The Harvard School of Public Health recommends water as the drink of choice for healthy living. But the institution acknowledges that for some people, water may not be satisfying. Our palates have gotten used to sweetness. It will take concerted effort “from creative food scientists and marketers in the beverage industry, as well as from individual consumers and families, schools and worksites, and state and federal government” to retrain our individual and collective tastebuds.
Harvard recommends that each of us make healthy drinking a personal priority and offers these hints:
- Consume more H2O than any other beverage. Plain old tap too bland? Try infusing your drink with fruits, herbs, or citrus.
- If you must grab a soda, avoid over-sized containers like 20-ounce bottles and convenience store mega cups.
- Reach out to beverage companies and encourage them to make reduced-sugar beverages.
- Ask local schools to ditch soda machines and make filtered water and functioning fountains available.
- Encourage local retailers to carry smaller-sized sodas (8 and 12 ounces).
- Take it easy on the diet drinks. “Artificial sweeteners are an option for people who need to wean themselves off of the sugary stuff, similar to a nicotine patch for a smoker. If you do choose artificially sweetened beverages, those sweetened with aspartame are probably the best choice, since aspartame is made of two substances found naturally in food and has a good safety track record,” the recommendation reads. “It is wise to wean yourself off of artificial sweeteners, little by little, because of the unanswered questions about the relationship between diet drinks and obesity.”