7 Deadly Reasons To Stay Away from Soda

By: Michael Engle

Have you ever witnessed a child, at a birthday party or Taco Bell, take one sip of Mountain Dew and instantly become incredibly hyper?  According to Rodale's Emily Main, there are plenty of worrisome long-term side effects associated with soft drink consumption, going beyond the heaping tablespoons of sugar and empty calories. Even though diet soda may lack the calories of the regular counterparts, it also contributes to some of these health hazards!

Super-size physique: Drinking non-diet soda leads to dramatic increases in fat buildup around your liver and your skeletal muscles, both of which can contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes. Danish researchers released a study, revealing that people who drank a regular soda every day for six months saw a 132 to 142 percent increase in liver fat, a 117 to 221 percent jump in skeletal fat, and about a 30 percent increase in both triglyceride blood fats and other organ fat. Their consumption also led to an 11 percent increase in cholesterol, compared with the people who drank other beverages such as water or milk. Meanwhile, diet soda drinkers are prone to a 70% waist size increase over 10 years. Drink more than one diet soda a day, and that 70% may rise to 500%!

Cancerous cola?: Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola recently announced tweaks to their recipes, in order to avoid labels highlighting a cancer-causing ingredient. Two contaminants in the cosmetic coloring, 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, have been found to cause cancer in animals, a threat the group says is unnecessary. According to California's strict Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, just 16 micrograms per person per day of 4-methylimidazole is enough to pose a cancer threat, and most popular brown colas, both diet and regular, contain 200 micrograms per 20-ounce bottle.

Fountain of premature aging: Diet or regular, all colas contain phosphates--weak acids that gives colas their tangy flavor and improves their shelf life. Although it exists in many whole foods, such as meat, dairy, and nuts, too much phosphoric acid can lead to heart and kidney problems, muscle loss, and osteoporosis, and one study suggests it could trigger accelerated aging.

Diet soda pollutes water supplies: The artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas don't break down in our bodies, nor do wastewater-treatment plants catch them before they enter waterways, researchers have found. It's not clear yet what these low levels are doing to people, but past research has found that sucralose in rivers and lakes interferes with some organisms' feeding habits.

BPA found in cans: Nearly all aluminum soda cans are lined with an epoxy resin called bisphenol A (BPA), used to keep the acids in soda from reacting with the metal. BPA is known to interfere with hormones, and has been linked to everything from infertility to obesity and diabetes and some forms of reproductive cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pegged soda cans, along with restaurant, school, and fast-food meals, as a major source of exposure to the chemical. And while Pepsi and Coke are currently locked in a battle to see which company can be the first to develop a 100 percent plant-based-plastic bottle-which they're touting as "BPA free"-neither company is willing to switch to BPA-free aluminum cans.

Taking a chance on GMO's: As much as 88 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to resist toxic pesticides or engineered to create pesticides within the plant itself. This corn is prevalent in soda, via high-fructose corn syrup.  Thanks to lax government safety regulations, and tight corporate control over who gets to test these proprietary seeds, there are no human studies that can prove or disprove whether these crops are safe. Independent scientists have found that, in animals, genetically modified crops, or GMOs, are linked to digestive tract damage, accelerated aging, and even infertility.

Mountain Dew Mouth and Mind: Dentists have a name for the condition they see in kids who drink too much Mountain Dew. They wind up with a "Mountain Dew Mouth," full of cavities caused by the drink's excessive sugar levels. "Mountain Dew Mind" may be the next medical condition that gets named after the stuff. An ingredient called brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, added to prevent the flavoring from separating from the drink, is an industrial chemical used as a flame retardant in plastics. Also found in other citrus-based soft drinks and sports drinks, the chemical has been known to cause memory loss and nerve disorders when consumed in large quantities. Researchers also suspect that the chemical builds up in body fat, possibly causing behavioral problems, infertility, and lesions on heart muscles over time.

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Can A Ban on Junk Food Ads Reduce Its Consumption?

Studies based on an experiment in Canada, show that a ban on ads that promote junk food among children is likely to cut down their consumption. The experiment took place in Quebec province where the government banned fast food ads between 1984 and 1992, resulting in the consumption of about 11-22 million fewer fast-food meals per year. This translated to 2.2-4.4 billion fewer calories consumed by children and a reduction by 13% of fast-food expenditures per week in each household, according to Kathy Baylis, an economist from the University of Illinois.

This raises certainty to the question of effectiveness of junk food and fast food ads targeted at children. As seen in previous studies, soft drink manufacturers were found to target minority children in their marketing strategies since Hispanic and African American children were found to consume far more sugar than their Caucasian counterparts. With already-genetic disadvantages like diabetes and heart disease, these targeted minority groups do not stand a chance in kicking the junk food and soft drink habit because of ad targeting.

This study done by Kathy Baylis and co-author Tirtha Dhar pointed out that advertising bans do work but the US would have to go to the extreme and put forth an outright ban covering the entire US media market in order for it to be the most effective policy tool for reducing junk food consumption in children. This is due to the fact that the bans work best when children live in an isolated media market.

Another question raised points to the influence of the internet among children. Because of the increased popularity of internet games, children may be spending more time in front of their computers instead of the TV set, which may lessen the effects of an ad ban. Ad bans would in turn have to be extended to website ads and beyond in order to be effective.

Yet, because of the success rate of lowered fast-food intake among kids, such measures may prove ideal and even necessary if the country indeed wishes to reduce the statistics of childhood obesity and weight-related illnesses that run rampant in the US.

Do you think there should be a junk food ad ban?

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Will Taxing Soda Deter Its Consumption?

By: Saira Malhotra

When a product is deemed harmful, we know from childhood that being lectured doesn't make it a deterrent. That's when the invisible hand comes into play - sin taxes. Levied on cigarettes and alcohol, the objective is to reduce the number of transactions. Does it work? According to various supermarket and green market vendors, the $14 cigarette packet has less of an audience than it once did.

This week, Time Magazine's 'Heathland' took a closer look at how a price hike in soda would impact supply chain participants. In the past the view has been to reprimand the client by raising taxes on those commodities or inhibiting their purchase through food stamps. The angle being taken is different this time.

Iowa State University affirms that while taxation plays a key role, the burden should not be passed to the consumer. Economists Helen Jensen and John Beghin feel that the recipient of these taxes should be the manufacturers who can then pass on some of it in a watered-down way to others in the supply chain. The study which was published in the Contemporary Economic Policy indicates that the government will regulate which sweeteners a soda company can use for the beverages through varying tax levels. Such initiatives will ultimately incentivize manufacturers to seek healthier alternatives that serve to reduce calories and improve the way the body metabolizes those calories.

While this doesn't address all the junk food challenges this country faces, it is a step in the right direction and provides a model for other businesses to follow suit.

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Michael Pollan on Kicking the Junk Food Habit

By: Michele Wolfson

It's kind of telling when Michael Pollan comes out on the stage and I am as excited as if I was seeing a rock concert. Either age has set in, or the Pollan's thought-provoking reports on where food really comes from is a palpable topic that many of us Americans want to hear more about. I love being an American, but lets be honest here- we have been very careless eaters for a long time. I'm guilty of mindless eating, myself!

Usually we Americans seek food that is quick and easy. After working a long day, countless people don't want to cook, but still want to eat healthy well-balanced meals. Often the solution to this problem is to purchase frozen dinners labeled "healthy" or "low calorie" because it seems to be a healthy alternative, but just because something is labeled "healthy" doesn't always mean it is. The frozen food marketing is highly individualized, there is food designed for kids, for the meat-eating man, and for the woman who is watching her weight. They want to break us up, because they'll sell us more food that way, but we, the general public, need to push back against that. If we all start eating the same thing at the table, our health can dramatically improve as a nation.

In an interview with The Washington Post this week, Michael Pollan explains why the wisdom of our grandparents might have more helpful things to say about how to eat better than the recommendations of science or industry or government. Rule number 11 in Pollan's latest edition of Food Rules says to "Avoid Foods You See Advertised on Television." This statement seems like such a simple revelation that could have positive effects on reversing childhood obesity, but food lobbyists and numerous large companies are up in arms about this rule and many others.

Many of the foods advertised on television are processed. Pollan explains, "The history of better-for-you processed foods is that it doesn't work... When you come up with no-fat processed food, people binge on it and think they can eat a lot of it. That's part of what the industry is up to and it's very, very clever." One of the main challenges that this country faces is to find a way to offer pleasure food that isn't much more expensive than fast foods and will improve the health of a child.

There is a difference between what the food industry is labeling as "healthy" and products that are "organic" and locally grown." It's refreshing to read that even in the tough economic times that our nation faces today, sales of organic products are growing and farmer's markets are increasing, even popping up in food deserts across the country.

It's not cheap to buy organic, but many American's feel that it's really important and even if they can't afford it- they are digging down to do so. With that said, McDonalds had a 14 percent increase in revenues to $7.1 billion in sales, with a profit of $1.5 billion in the third quarter alone. It's evident that more people are trading down from more expensive eats when they can get their food from cheaper restaurants. This is still a fast food nation and there is a lot of work to be done on food reform as well as the food movement. However, the mainstream food industry is threatened by folks like Michael Pollan and is terrified that consumers could turn on them at any moment.

For more on snacking in America, read our article A Nation of Snacking, here. 

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Soft Drink Manufacturers Targeting Minority Children

By: Saira Malhotra

On Monday, the NY Daily News reported on a study performed by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The report findings indicated that African American children watch approximately 90% more advertising than their Caucasian counterparts. Capturing this audience, soda and energy drink manufacturers bombard their viewers with enticing ad campaigns which in turn yields the very result they are looking for: Increased sales.

According to the reports co-author, Kelly Brownell said "Our children are being assaulted by these drinks that are high in sugar and low in nutrition....The companies are marketing them in highly aggressive ways." The report also indicates that the increased statistics can be attributed to online interaction, leaving the kids hit by all angles of media. According to the NY Daily News, Coca-Cola, parent company of Sprite, Odwalla and energy drinks, accounts for 30 million Facebook fans, not to mention the number of hits their own website gets.

The often playful-looking campaigns drawing kids to their 'thirst quenching' and sometimes nutritionally-positioned products are anything but that. These campaigns are the face of several charts and graphs supporting company mission statements and corporate objectives contributing to 'the bottom line'. Can there be two winners? Not at all. The recipients of these campaigns are the Hispanic and African American juvenile community who already have genetic disadvantages, such as, diabetes and heart disease.  According to AACORN.org (African American Collaborative Obesity  Research Network), not only are these children candidates for diabetes resulting from unhealthy eating and drinking habits, but their body already has a predisposition to them.

According to a report published by the USDA, African American and Hispanic kids at every age range consume far more sugar-sweetened beverages than Caucasian kids. The report also demonstrates that these communities are not able to kick the habit and it follows them throughout their adult life.

It is hard for these communities to beat the odds as they are targeted by large soda manufacturers. In addition to television, there is a much higher frequency by which African American and Hispanic children frequent the cinema versus Caucasian children. Some argue that the constant exposure they get through the media to these unhealthy drinks begins to normalize the product for both them and their guardians.

Unfortunately, using these 2 communities as an avenue for business growth is not a new approach for soft drink companies. These tactics have been used since 1930's, according to AACORN, through a variety of tools, such as sales promotions, public relations and sponsorships. According to the study performed by Yale, the internet has now provided yet another tool to bring about a spike in their consumption of these beverages.

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