Obesity on the Rise

With obesity rates in the US climbing in both children and adults, government nutritionists are looking at causes and cures. Researchers have determined that one of the major causes of weight gain among Americans is high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Even more troubling than weight gain is the increasing epidemic of type 2 diabetes among adults. Doctors are also alarmed by the incidence of type 2 diabetes appearing in adolescents. Prior to the 1990's, type 2 diabetes was rarely seen in teens. Some nutrition experts also maintain that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to development of type 2 diabetes.

What's a sugar-sweetened beverage? All sodas, soft drinks, juice drinks, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, and flavored milks qualify. According to government and other studies, soft drinks are currently the leading source of added sugars in the daily diet of young Americans. One 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda contains 150 calories. If these calories are added to a typical US diet with no reduction in other caloric sources, one can of soda per day can lead to a 15-pound weight gain in a year. Many teens take in from 500 to 1000 calories each day just from soda alone!

Getting calories from beverages is a relatively new concept for the human body. The human brain doesn't recognize alories coming from liquids in the same way it recognizes calories from food. In nature, liquids would naturally come from either milk or water. While eating food causes a feedback mechanism that says, "I'm full," drinking caloric liquids does not register in the brain as calories taken in. That's why it's easy to gain weight with sugarsweetened drinks.

Sometimes parents give their children "juice drinks" thinking that these drinks are either healthier than soda or at least, harmless. In fact, these drinks are the single most likely cause of childhood weight gain.

The good news is, water, flavored seltzer, diet sodas, and unsweetened coffee and tea are all good choices for both hydration and weight control. For children over two years of age, lowfat or skim milk is a good choice. (Children under two need whole milk or formula.)