August 31, 2009 – It’s hard to overeat without noticing it. By contrast, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can sneak up on you, adding hundreds of calories to your diet each day without ever filling you up. In a new effort to highlight the health impact of sweetened drinks, the Health Department is confronting New Yorkers with a bold question: Are you pouring on the pounds? The agency’s new public-awareness campaign, which includes posters in the subway system and a multilingual Health Bulletin, goes live today and will run for three months.
The campaign’s signature image – in which a bottle of soda, “sports” drink or sweetened iced tea turns to a blob of fat as it reaches the glass – is s a stark reminder of how these products can lead to obesity and related health problems. The ads urge New Yorkers to cut back on sugary beverages and quench their thirst with water, seltzer or low-fat milk instead. Many people may stir a teaspoon or two of sugar into their coffee, but few realize that a 20-ounce bottle of soda can contain 16 ½ teaspoons of sugar.
“Sugary drinks shouldn’t be a part of our everyday diet,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley. “Drinking beverages loaded with sugars increases the risk of obesity and associated problems, particularly diabetes but also heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer.”
On average, Americans now consume 200 to 300 more calories each day than we did 30 years ago. Nearly half of these extra calories come from sugar-sweetened drinks. When Health Department researchers surveyed adult New Yorkers about their consumption of soda and other sweetened drinks, the findings showed that more than 2 million drink at least one sugar-sweetened soda or other sweetened beverage each day – at as much as 250 calories a pop. Daily consumption was highest among Bronx residents, followed by residents of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Sweetened-beverage consumption is higher among men than among women, and especially prevalent among 18- to 44-year-olds and among adult blacks and Hispanics.
Like Bronx adults, Bronx teens reported high intake of sugary drinks. When public high school students were asked whether they drank at least one soda a day over the course of a week, the proportion answering “yes” was 29% in the Bronx, followed by Staten Island (25%), Queens (23%), Brooklyn (22%) and Manhattan (21%). Teens who drink sugary beverages get an average of 360 calories from them each day – an amount they would have to walk 70 city blocks to burn.
Rethink Your Drink
It’s no secret that soft drinks have gotten bigger over the years. Soda used to come in 6.5-ounce bottles. Today, 12-ounce cans are considered small and 20-ounce bottles are typical. A single super-sized soda can pack as many calories as three to four regular cans of soda.
Fruit juice is more nutritious than soda, and rarely consumed in such large portions, but it is just as rich in calories. Whole fruit has fewer calories and has plenty of fiber.
The Health Department advises parents not to serve their kids punch, fruit-flavored drinks or “sports” and “energy” drinks. Most of them are low in nutrients and high in empty calories. The best way to stay hydrated while exercising is to drink water. Coffee and tea drinks also pack more calories than many consumers realize. New Yorkers are often surprised when they see how many calories are listed on menu boards for these popular drinks.
The Health Department recommends these simple strategies to avoid pouring on the pounds: If you drink coffee or tea, order it plain and flavor it yourself. If you order a sugar-sweetened beverage, ask for a “small.” When you shop for beverages, read the labels and choose products with fewer than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving. And if you enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages, make them an occasional treat and not a daily staple.
“When people count calories, they too often forget to include the liquid ones, said Cathy Nonas, director of the Health Department’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Programs. “We need to start thinking of the sugar in sweetened drinks as unwanted, wasted calories. These calories provide no nutritional benefits and can lead to weight gain. Water and other zero-calorie beverages are a better choice.”
Data on the consumption of soda and sweetened-beverages comes from the Health Department’s 2007 Community Health Survey and Youth Risk Behavior Survey. For more information, New Yorkers can go to www.nyc.gov/health/obesity or call 311.