The addict feels low. His body needs a boost. He reaches into his pocket and finds a dollar bill. He slides it into the machine and a can rolls out. He opens the can and guzzles. He feels his energy return. His fix will last a couple of hours, enough to keep him alert for the rest of the morning.
The addict is twelve years old and his drug is a soft drink, purchased from a vending machine in his school. This addict and thousands like him will attend special classes, sponsored by his school, to warn him about the dangers of drugs, tobacco and alcohol. But no one will tell him about America’s other drinking problem.
According to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA), consumption of soft drinks is now over 600 12-ounce servings (12 oz.) per person per year. Since 1978, soda consumption in the US has tripled for boys and doubled for girls. Young males age 12-29 are the biggest consumers at over 160 gallons per year—that’s almost 2 quarts per day. At these levels, the calories from soft drinks contribute as much as 10 percent of the total daily caloric intake for a growing boy.
TARGETING THE YOUNG
Huge increases in soft drink consumption have not happened by chance—they are due to intense marketing efforts by soft drink corporations. Coca Cola, for example, has set the goal of raising consumption of its products in the US by at least 25 percent per year. The adult market is stagnant so kids are the target. According to an article in Beverage, January 1999, “Influencing elementary school students is very important to soft drink marketers.”
Since the 1960s the industry has increased the single-serving size from a standard 6-½-ounce bottle to a 20-ounce bottle. At movie theaters and at 7-Eleven stores the most popular size is now the 64-ounce “Double Gulp.”
Soft drink companies spend billions on advertising. Much of these marketing efforts are aimed at children through playgrounds, toys, cartoons, movies, videos, charities and amusement parks; and through contests, sweepstakes, games and clubs via television, radio, magazines and the internet. Their efforts have paid off. Last year soft drink companies grossed over $57 billion in sales in the US alone, a colossal amount.
In 1998 the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) warned the public that soft drink companies were beginning to infiltrate our schools and kid clubs. For example, they reported that Coca-Cola paid the Boys & Girls Clubs of America $60 million to market its brand exclusively in over 2000 facilities. Fast food companies selling soft drinks now run ads on Channel One, the commercial television network with programming shown in classrooms almost every day to eight million middle, junior and high school students. In 1993, District 11 in Colorado Springs became the first public school district in the US to place ads for Burger King in its hallways and on the sides of its school buses. Later, the school district signed a 10-year deal with Coca-Cola, bringing in $11 million during the life of the contract. This arrangement was later imitated all over Colorado. The contracts specify annual sales quotas with the result that school administrators encourage students to drink sodas, even in the classrooms. One high school in Beltsville, Maryland, made nearly $100,000 last year on a deal with a soft drink company.
While our children are exposed to unremitting publicity for soft drinks, evidence of their dangers accumulates. The consumption of soft drinks, like land-mine terrain, is riddled with hazards. We as practitioners and advocates of a healthy life-style recognize that consuming even as little as one or two sodas per day is undeniably connected to a myriad of pathologies. The most commonly associated health risks are obesity, diabetes and other blood sugar disorders, tooth decay, osteoporosis and bone fractures, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, food addictions and eating disorders, neurotransmitter dysfunction from chemical sweeteners, and neurological and adrenal disorders from excessive caffeine.
Warnings about the dangers of soft drink consumption came to us as early as 1942 when the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Food and Nutrition made the following noble statement: “From the health point of view it is desirable especially to have restriction of such use of sugar as is represented by consumption of sweetened carbonated beverages and forms of candy which are of low nutritional value. The Council believes it would be in the interest of the public health for all practical means to be taken to limit consumption of sugar in any form in which it fails to be combined with significant proportions of other foods of high nutritive quality.”
Since that time the first notable public outcry came in 1998, 56 years later, when the CSPI published a paper called “Liquid Candy” blasting the food industry for “mounting predatory marketing campaigns [especially] aimed at children and adolescents.” At a press conference, CSPI set up 868 cans of soda to represent the amount of soda the average young male consumed during the prior year. For additional shock effect, CSPI displayed baby bottles with soft drink logos such as Pepsi, Seven-Up and Dr. Pepper, highlighting a study that “found that parents are four times more likely to feed their children soda pop when their children use those logo bottles than when they don’t.”
In “Liquid Candy” CSPI revealed that even though, over a period of fifty years, soft drink production increased nine times and by 1998 “…provided more than one-third of all refined sugars in the diet, . . . the AMA and other health organizations [remained] largely silent.” How could the medical community and we as responsible citizens concerned with health policy have been apathetic for a half a century? Considering this question makes me feel like a tired old guard dog that knows he is ignoring his responsibilities, but is too worn down to do anything about them. Even if inertia were not a problem, the money and effort required to launch a public interest campaign to stand up to the soft drink industry would be Herculean if not impossible. In the meantime, the relentlessly ambitious and wealthy soft drink companies with their very hip life-style ads manage to seduce ever increasing numbers of consumers, most of them our kids.
One common problem I have seen over the years, especially in teenagers, is general gastrointestinal (GI) distress. This includes increased stomach acid levels requiring acid inhibitors and moderate to severe gastric inflammation with possible stomach lining erosion. The common complaint I hear is chronic “stomach ache.” In almost every case, when the client successfully abstains from sodas and caffeine, the symptoms will go away.
What causes these symptoms? We know that many soda brands contain caffeine and that caffeine does increase stomach acid levels. What we may not be aware of is that sodas also contain an array of chemical acids as additives, such as acetic, fumaric, gluconic and phosphoric acids, all of them synthetically produced. That is why certain sodas work so well when used to clean car engines. For human consumption, however, the effects are much less satisfying and quite precarious. Drinking sodas, especially on an empty stomach, can upset the fragile acid-alkaline balance of the stomach and other gastric lining, creating a continuous acid environment. This prolonged acid environment can lead to inflammation of the stomach and duodenal lining which becomes quite painful. Over the long term, it can lead to gastric lining erosion.
Another problem with sodas is that they act as dehydrating diuretics, much like tea, coffee and alcohol. All of these drinks can inhibit proper digestive function. It is much healthier to consume herbal teas, nutritional soups and broths, naturally lacto-fermented beverages and water to supply our daily fluid needs. These fluids support, not inhibit, digestion.
Students are now being given “electrolyte” drinks called “ergogenic aids” to replace electrolytes that are allegedly depleted during workouts. There are three problems with using these drinks as a rehydration solution. First, most soft drinks are diuretics, meaning they squeeze liquids out of the body, thus exacerbating dehydration instead of correcting it. Second, most people actually lose few electrolytes during exercise. After exercise the body is usually in an electrolyte load having lost more fluids than electrolytes. If sweating has been profuse, electrolytes can be replaced by drinking a lacto-fermented beverage or pure mineral water, which contains a proper ratio of minerals (electrolytes), and by eating a healthy diet containing Celtic sea salt. Third, when we give sugar-laden drinks to dehydrated kids, the high sugar content requires that blood be sent to the stomach to digest it. This fluid shift can lower the blood volume in other parts of the body making them more susceptible to cramps and heat-related illnesses.
STIMULANT SOFT DRINKS AND VIOLENCE
The industry has begun to market so-called stimulant soft drinks, which usually consist of higher-than-usual levels of caffeine, along with other compound stimulants. According to an article published in The Lancet, December 2000, the Irish government ordered “urgent research” into the effects of so-called “functional energy” or stimulant soft drinks after the death of an 18-year-old who died while playing basketball. He had consumed three cans of “Red Bull,” a stimulant soft drink. The article noted there have been reports of a rise in aggressive late-night violence occurring when people switch to these drinks while drowsy from too much alcohol. The resulting violence was so pervasive that some establishments in Ireland have refused to sell stimulant drinks. The entire European community has taken the problem seriously enough to ask the EU’s scientific community to examine stimulant sodas and their effect on food and health safety, but no such outcry has been heard in the US.
Over the last 30 years a virtual tome of information has been published linking soft drink consumption to a rise in osteoporosis and bone fractures. New evidence has shown an alarming rise in deficiencies of calcium and other minerals and resulting bone fractures in young girls. A 1994 report published in the Journal of Adolescent Health summarizes a small study (76 girls and 51 boys) and points toward an increasing and “strong association between cola beverage consumption and bone fractures in girls.” High calcium intake offered some protection. For boys, only low total caloric intake was associated with a higher risk of bone fractures. The study concluded with the following: “The high consumption of carbonated beverages and the declining consumption of milk are of great public health significance for girls and women because of their proneness to osteoporosis in later life.”
A larger, cross sectional retrospective study of 460 high school girls was published in Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in June 2000. The study indicated that cola beverages were “highly associated with bone fractures.” In their conclusion the authors warned that, “. . . national concern and alarm about the health impact of carbonated beverage consumption on teenaged girls is supported by the findings of this study” (emphasis mine).
THE BATTLE AHEAD
The dangers of society’s other drinking problem have recently been in the news. Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative George Miller have commissioned a study on the uses and oversight of school vending machines. Pending legislation in the State of Maryland would turn school soda vending machines off during the school day. Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced a bill requiring the USDA to rule within 18 months on banning or limiting the sale of soda and junk food in schools before students have eaten lunch.
The soft drink industry has fought back by funding four studies on soft drink consumption at the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy. Predictably, these studies found that there was nothing wrong with soft drinks. In fact, researchers said they found a positive relationship between soft drink consumption and exercise. All this means is that those children participating in sports programs drank more sodas.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NAASP) says that decisions about soda sales should be made at the local level and not by the federal government. School administrators are caught between demands of a few parents for a saner food policy and the need for more funds in the face of dwindling school budgets.
One good idea comes from the Philippines, a country where malnutrition is an ominous health threat. A recently devised plan there would allow citizens to cash in on the country’s “junk food diet” by taxing every liter bottle of carbonated soft drink sold. If the US taxed soft drink sales, the new income stream generated could then be distributed to declining school budgets. Is this not a better idea than forcing our schools to sell their souls to soft drink companies under the titanic sink of fiscal degradation?
The alarm has been sounded! Are you listening? I strongly encourage all who are concerned about the health of their families to consider the debilitating consequences of drinking soft drinks. How many more studies and reports need to be published before we notice the tsunami lurking ahead? In the 1970s, we finally recognized the risks of smoking. In the 1990s, the problem of teenage drinking became widely known. The new millennium is the time for awakening to the risks of soda consumption—America’s other drinking problem.
INGREDIENTS IN SOFT DRINKS—A WITCH’S BREW
High Fructose Corn Syrup, now used in preference to sugar, is associated with poor development of collagen in growing animals, especially in the context of copper deficiency. All fructose must be metabolized by the liver. Animals on high-fructose diets develop liver problems similar to those of alcoholics.
Aspartame, used in diet sodas, is a potent neurotoxin and endocrine disrupter. See article on page 25.
Caffeine stimulates the adrenal gland without providing nourishment. In large amounts, caffeine can lead to adrenal exhaustion, especially in children.
Phosphoric acid, added to give soft drinks “bite,” is associated with calcium loss.
Citric acid often contains traces of MSG, a neurotoxin.
Artificial Flavors may also contain traces of MSG.
Water may contain high amounts of fluoride and other contaminants.
PHOSPHORIC ACID AND TOOTH ROT
Now that soft drinks are sold in almost all public and private schools, dentists are noticing a condition in teenagers that used to be found only in the elderly—a complete loss of enamel on the teeth, resulting in yellow teeth. The culprit is phosphoric acid in soft drinks, which causes tooth rot as well as digestive problems and bone loss. Dentists are reporting complete loss of the enamel on the front teeth in teenaged boys and girls who habitually drink sodas.
Normally the saliva is slightly alkaline, with a pH of about 7.4. When sodas are sipped throughout the day, as is often the case with teenagers, the phosphoric acid lowers the pH of the saliva to acidic levels. In order to buffer this acidic saliva, and bring the pH level above 7 again, the body pulls calcium ions from the teeth. The result is a very rapid depletion of the enamel coating on the teeth.
When dentists do cosmetic bonding, they first roughen up the enamel with a chemical compound—that chemical is phosphoric acid! Young people who must have all their yellowed front teeth cosmetically bonded have already done part of the dentist’s job, by roughening up the tooth surface with phosphoric acid.
Recently the National Institutes of Health held a conference on dental decay worldwide. The speakers discussed many possible causes and solutions, but not one mentioned the known effects of phosphoric acid in soft drinks!
Consumers often drink commercial fruit juices in the belief that they are healthier than soft drinks. However, the manufacture of fruit juices is a highly industrialized process. Orange juice, for example, is made in huge quantities. The entire orange is squeezed and goes into the tank, which means that neurotoxic cholinesterase inhibitor pesticide sprays on the peel end up in the juice. Although the juice is pasteurized under high temperatures and pressures, pressure-resistent and temperature-resistant fungi and molds can remain in the juice. Many mutagenic factors have been detected in commercial orange juice. A compound made of soy protein and pectin is added to orange juice so that it remains opaque and doesn’t settle.
Other fruits, such as grapes, present additional problems because of the large amounts of fluoride-containing pesticides used on the crops.
Fruit juices are very high in sugar and have actually been more detrimental to the teeth of test animals than sodas!
If you want to drink fruit juice, buy a juicer and make your own with organic fruit. It’s best to dilute a small amount of fruit juice with mineral water (either flat or carbonated). The juice of one-half grapefruit added to a glass of sparkling water, for example, makes a delicious, refreshing drink. A recipe for a pineapple cooler, made from equal parts of fresh pineapple juice and whole raw milk, is found in old cookbooks. In restaurants, order mineral water and some pieces of fresh lemon or lime.
Above all, support the comeback of traditional lacto-fermented beverages such as kombucha and kvass.
- “Soft Drinks Hard Facts,” The Washington Post /Health, February 27, 2001.
- “Schools Hooked on Junk Food,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2001.
- “Coke to Dilute Push in Schools For Its Products,” The New York Times, March 14, 2001.
- National Soft Drink Association. Web Site, www.thesodafountain.com.
- “Some Nutritional Aspects of Sugar, Candy and Sweetened Carbonated Beverages,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 1942;120:763-5.
- Liquid Candy, How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans’ Health, M. Jacobson, PhD.
- Web Site, CSPI.com.
- “Soft Drinks Undermining Americans’ Health: Teens Consume Twice as Much ‘Liquid Candy’ as Milk,” CSPI Press Release, Oct. 21, 1998.
- Food Surveys Research Group – What We Eat in America. USDA Web Site.
- “Relationship Between Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Drinks & Childhood Obesity: AProspective and Observational Analysis,” The Lancet, 2001. 357:505-08.
- “The Cariogenicity of Soft Drinks in the United States,” Journal of the American Dental Association, Aug. 1984 109(2):241-5.
- “How Sugar-Containing Drinks Might Increase Adiposity in Children,” The Lancet, 2001. 357; 9225.
- “Junk Food Boost for Health in the Philippines,” The Lancet, 1997. 350; 9087.
- “Teenaged Girls, Carbonated Beverage Consumption, and Bone Fractures,” Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, June 2000. 154(6).
- “Carbonated beverages, dietary calcium, the dietary calcium/phosphorus ratio, and bone fractures in girls and boys,” Journal of Adolescent Health, May 1994. 15(3): 210-5.
- “Soft drink consumption among US children and adolescents: nutritional consequences,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association,. April 1999. (4): 436-41.
- “Irish concerned about health effects of stimulant soft drinks,” The Lancet, December 2000; 356; 9245.
- The Diet Cure, Julia Ross. 1999. Penguin Books, NY, NY.
- Eating for A’s. Alexander Schauss, Barbara Friedlander Meyer, Arnold Meyer. 1991: NY Pocket Books.
- The Encyclopedia of Nutrition & Good Health. Robert Ronzio.1997. Facts on File, NY.
- Fast Food Nation. Eric Schlosser. 2001. Houghton Mifflin.
- Nourishing Traditions. Sally Fallon, with Mary Enig, PhD. NewTrends Publishing, Washington, DC
- Textbook of Natural Medicine. J. Pizzorno, M. Murray. 1999 2d Ed. Church Livingstone, NY.
- “Hard Line on Soft Drinks?” Nutrition Week, Community Nutrition Institute
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2001.