As a registered dietitian with the Washington County Health Department, Tammy Thornton has a simple rule at home for her children: No cola allowed.
She also knows that sometimes kids don’t always follow the rules when they’re out of Mom’s sight.
“I don’t serve soda in my house, but, you know, when they’re with friends, they have soda,” she said. “A lot of calories, especially for young people, come from what they drink.”
Statistics show that she’s right when it comes to children and sweetened drinks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four high school students drink some type of soda each day and nearly two in 10 consume other types of sugar-sweetened drinks one or more times a day.
But children aren’t alone. Thornton said most people don’t realize that they are consuming many of their daily calories by the glassful. The USDA reports that 1 in 4 Americans get at least 200 calories a day from sugary drinks. For instance, the USDA reports that a regular cola contains 227 calories in a 20-ounce drink.
Thornton said the number of calories a person consumes per day depends on several factors including gender, age, height, muscle mass, metabolism and energy expenditure.
“My daughter has a friend who’s 19 and he’s a runner, “ she said. “And he told her that he eats 4,000 calories a day. And he can do that. He’s a tiny little thing and he can do that. If I ate 4,000 calories a day I’d be 300 pounds.”
That’s why she’s helping lead a campaign with the health department and HEAL of Washington County, on whose board she sits, to get people to simply, “Rethink Your Drink.”
The national campaign is lead by a partnership with the CDC, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The mission of the Rethink Your Drink campaign is to educate people of all ages that sweetened drinks are often packed with hidden calories.
Studies have shown that not watching calorie intake and consuming too much sugar often results in obesity. According to the 2012 Meritus Community Health Needs Assessment, 72.6 percent of Washington County adults are overweight, which is above the national 63.5 percentage of adults.
All those numbers are serious when considering that members of the American Medical Association voted June 18 that obesity is a disease, meaning that in the U.S. 12 million children and 78 million adults now are labeled with having a disease.
But this didn’t happen overnight. Thornton said in the 1970s a national shift came in nutrition when “experts” were saying fat in food was bad because they had thought there was a connection between fat and heart disease. Sugar became the new wonder food and it was touted as being better for a person. That led to a pro-sugar campaign by the sugar industry, she said, with advertisements such as one that read “Sugar keeps your energy up — and your appetite down.”
Thornton said “sugar does give you instant energy, but it’s not long lasting.”
Thornton said the Rethink Your Drink program is encouraging people to stop before they consume sugary drinks. And although the majority of added sugars in the American diet comes from soda and it is often blamed for the obesity epidemic, fruit juice is just as big a culprit.
The USDA reports that a 20-ounce glass of 100-percent apple juice has 300 calories. That’s more than the 181 calories in a slice of pepperoni pizza.
And it’s just not colas and juices, Thornton said. Even sports drinks and zero-calorie diet colas often have other additives such as sodium.
Thornton also cautions people from drinking sports drinks such as Gatorade without looking at the label. According to Pepsi Co.’s website, a 20-ounce Gatorade Orange has 130 calories, contains 34 milligrams of sugar and 270 milligrams of sodium.
“Gatorade was always meant for high-endurance athletes,” she said. “But look who’s drinking Gatorade? There’s 6-year-olds playing soccer who spend most of the time standing around and looking for the ball. They’re not high-endurance athletes.”
Water is always the best, Thornton said. And studies have shown that by cutting out just one soda a day, an average adult can lose 16 pounds a year.
What Thornton suggests is to look at your diet.