Over the past few weeks, the soda debate has been growing. Just a week after a judge blocked Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban soft drinks larger than 16 ounces was rejected, Harvard University released a study that connects sugary drinks to thousands of deaths a year.
With all of these statistics and studies, it can be difficult to determine if soda is the public hazard city officials have made it out to be or if there are other factors to consider.
“I think first we need to go back and talk about what soda is,” Dr. Mary Grace Webb, assistant director for Clinical Nutrition for New York Hospital Queens, said. “Basically it’s just carbonated water, which has no sugar or calories. But when you add the combination of corn syrup and preservatives, it becomes unhealthy.”
There are approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke and with one teaspoon equaling 15 calories, one can of Coke has 150 calories from sugar alone.
One can of soda is not going to do much harm but what concerns nutritionists, health officials and Bloomberg is the quantity of sugary drinks that are consumed in a given day.
Recent data released by Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley shows that socioeconomic background may also be a contributing factor.
“This new data is the latest evidence that sugary drinks are helping to drive the obesity epidemic, which falls hardest on low-income communities,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Obesity is killing more than 5,000 New Yorkers each year and demands bold steps to fight this crisis.”
For example, Bedford-Stuyvesant-Crown Heights in Brooklyn had the highest obesity rate at 33 percent and 47 percent of adult residents in that area report drinking one or more sugary drinks a day.
Those numbers are considerably high when compared to the Upper West Side, where the obesity rate is only 12 percent and 14 percent of adults drink one or more sugary drinks a day.
In Queens, the Rockaways had the highest obesity percentages at 39.5 percent. Flushing had the lowest obesity rate in the borough and the sixth lowest in the city at 22.3 percent.
“Selling foods that are cheap tend to be high in sugar and high in fat,” Webb said. “Unfortunately fast foods and soda fit that bill. There are many ways to eat healthy though, without worrying about it affecting your budget.”
Webb suggests drinking water or even diet soda. Dr. Richard Pinsker an endocrinologist and program director of internal medicine residency at Jamaica Hospical Medical Center, concurred.
“There are some people who feel that using substitute sweeteners can have adverse health effects but you’re not going to get obese from any amount of diet soda,” Pinsker said.
On top of the claims being made by Bloomberg, a Harvard study that was released on Wednesday has linked sugary drinks to 180,000 deaths a year worldwide, 25,000 in the United States alone.
Even with the mounting evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages are hazardous, the American Beverage Association openly criticized the study in a statement.
“It does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer — the real causes of death among the studied subjects,” the statement read. “The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe that allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease.”
Still, doctors like Webb say that it is ultimately the choices we make throughout the day that can lead to or prevent obesity; soda or otherwise.
“I think the biggest issue is the way people are eating day to day,” she said. “Many people skip meals, which makes them more inclined to be ravenous and want to eat something extra. We need to teach people to plan some healthy regular meals and plan healthy snacks in between.”
Nutritionists say that humans eat first with their eyes. Meaning, when we see a bottle of soda or a plate of cookies in front of us, we are more likely to consume it, even if we aren’t actually hungry.
“One interesting angle is that our bodies are nearly 80 percent water and we get thirsty before we get hungry,” Webb said. “We feel hungry when in fact we are actually really thirsty.”
What’s more, women’s bodies are more likely to collect fat easier than men. Biologically speaking, women need fewer calories than men due to average size and level of activity. And while men have more muscle tissue, women have more fat tissue for birthing purposes. Metabolically speaking, however, women and men break down food and drink the same.
Webb said the best way to see results is to educate yourself.
“There are many misconceptions regarding dieting,” she said. “For example, having an active lifestyle is more important than what you eat but going to a gym for three hours on a Saturday isn’t going to get you results either. You need to work on it every day, that way you’re burning energy.”
Webb also said stress management is a key factor in dieting and hunger.
“I cannot say it enough: stress management,” she said. “It’s easy to soothe difficult emotions with food and drink, but a bag of chips will not make your feelings go away.”
Even though Bloomberg’s proposal was denied, experts like Webb and Pinsker have said that evidence-based policies could curb soda consumption and save lives.
“Maybe, instead of seeing soda as a drink, people should think of it as a treat, like they would for a dessert,” Webb said. “At the end of the day, you have a cup of soda.”