Can fixing healthcare start with soda?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

September 2012

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu made a statement 2,500 years ago that is still widely quoted: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As multiple epidemics of chronic disease threaten our health as well as our economy and politicians are mired in a swamp of inaction, perhaps the general public can take the initiative with one single step: stop the soda flood.

Perhaps it's mere coincidence that the rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes have nearly quintupled since the 1960s and the national intake of sugared drinks, especially soda has greatly increased. The average American drinks about 18 ounces of sugar-laden drinks per day. For adolescent boys it's even higher — 22 ounces, or slightly more than 260 calories.

A high intake of soda isn't the only reason for obesity or type 2 diabetes but it certainly is a major factor. There is a linear relationship between the intake of sugared drinks and the incidence of both problems. Physicians have long recognized the association of obesity and type 2 diabetes. About 90 percent of their diabetic patients are overweight and many of those whose weight appears normal have an excess amount of abdominal fat, revealed by a not-so-normal waist size.

Besides leading to overweight, a high intake of soft drinks is also associated with broken bones, especially in physically active girls. Poor bone structure in adolescent females is a double threat. Not only do they face osteoporosis in late middle age, the babies that they bear will themselves have osteoporosis in the future.

The general public seems to be waking up to the problem. Parents and politicians have teamed up to remove soft drinks from schools. Some cities have imposed a tax on soda and New York City has threatened to ban soft drink containers that are larger than 16 ounces. That probably won't deter the truly sugar-addicted from simply buying two cups of the stuff but it does send a message that might someday get through.

Weaning the public from sugary drinks and pushing them to healthier choices won't be easy. Water is boring even though humans had nothing else with which to quench their thirst for a couple of million years. Diet drinks are no help. Some studies show that they promote obesity. Fruit juice has almost as many calories as soda and fruit drinks are worse. Still, eliminating soda is a first step on a difficult journey.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.