Kids are heavy consumers of soft drinks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they are guzzling soda pop at unprecedented rates. Carbonated soda pop provides more added sugar in a typical 2-year-old toddler’s diet than cookies, candies and ice cream combined.
Fifty-six percent of 8-year-olds down soft drinks daily, and a third of teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda pop per day.
- These popular beverages account for more than a quarter of all drinks consumed in the United States.
- More than 15 billion gallons were sold in 2000.
- That works out to at least one 12-ounce can per day for every man, woman and child.
Not only are soft drinks widely available everywhere, from fast food restaurants to video stores, they’re now sold in 60 percent of all public and private middle schools and high schools nationwide, according to the National Soft Drink Association. A few schools are even giving away soft drinks to students who buy school lunches.
As soda pop becomes the beverage of choice among the nation’s young — and as soda marketers focus on brand-building among younger and younger consumers — public health officials, school boards, parents, consumer groups and even the soft drink industry are faced with nagging questions:
- How healthful are these beverages, which provide a lot calories, sugars and caffeine but no significant nutritional value?
- And what happens if you drink a lot of them at a very young age?
Recently, representatives of the soft drink industry, concerned that public opinion and public policy may turn against them, will staged a three-day “fly-in” to lobby Congress to maintain soft drinks sales in schools; and to educate lawmakers on the “proper perspective” on soft drink use.
The industry plans to counter a US Department of Agriculture proposal, announced in January, that would require all foods sold in schools to meet federal nutrition standards. That would mean that snack foods and soft drinks would have to meet the same standards as school lunches.
Nearly everyone by now has heard the litany on the presumed health effects of soft drinks:
- Tooth decay
- Caffeine dependence
- Weakened bones
But does drinking soda pop really cause those things?
To help separate fact from fiction, the Health section reviewed the latest scientific findings and asked an array of experts on both sides of the debate to weigh in on the topic. Be forewarned, however: Compared with the data available on tobacco and even dietary fat, the scientific evidence on soft drinks is less developed. The results can be a lot like soft drinks themselves, both sweet and sticky.