Soda and global obesity

In my public health nutrition class, we’ve been talking a lot about the obesity epidemic in the United States. Without a doubt, children are heavier than they’ve been in the past, and diabetes is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US. Yet, I was shocked a few weeks ago when I learned that orange juice varieties commonly found in stores aren’t very different from sodas, and they contain absurd amounts of sugar making the “juices” unhealthy.

fun fact… did you know if you divide the grams of sugar per serving size listed on the label by 4, that value is the number of teaspoons of sugar per serving in the food/drink? 

Sugar-sweetened beverages, like juices and sodas, have definitely played a key role in the United States’ obesity epidemic. But how about around the world? I came across a study today that makes the following interesting points:

  • The rate of increase for soft drink sales is highest, outside of North America and Europe, in low and middle income countries.
  • Even a small increase in per capita soda consumption was associated with significant increases in weight, after controlling for other factors.
  • An increase in urbanization across the world is leading to more sedentary, stressful lifestyles which promote poor diet and less physical activity. As a result, we see lower health outcomes in low and middle countries, which are growing urban centers, as well.
  • Because soda consumption isn’t linked to economic development, people/nations still can experience economic growth without necessarily placing their populations at risk for obesity and related diseases.

Overall, I found that this analysis strengthens a lot of points that public health and nutrition professionals often point out. Sweetened beverages are definitely a key part of the global obesity epidemic, but they do not act alone. If we, as a society, are going to create and implement programs and policies that promote healthier lifestyles, we must study all the factors that lead to poor health outcomes and develop a holistic, well-rounded intervention.