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Health Science, Science Writing Topics

The Science and Controversy of Sugary Beverages


NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 01:  Kim Ward holds an ext...

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 01: Kim Ward holds an extra large soft drink from McDonald’s on June 1, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. In an attempt by the administration to fight obesity, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans yesterday to implement a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. The ban has proved controversial with many people saying it will not decrease obesity and will be a further erosion of personal choice. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

The recent soda ban passed in New York City has created a firestorm of controversy over whether or not government has the power to prevent consumers from choosing what they drink, even if it’s hazardous for their health (in large quantities).

Proponents of the ban argue that it will make New Yorkers healthier in the long run because it limits the amount of sugary beverages that people can have in a single sitting. Moreover, they argue that it will help younger generations, like schoolchildren who don’t necessarily understand that large servings of sodas and juices could harm them in the long run. Detractors say it’s tantamount to an invasion of privacy thinly veiled as a healthcare initiative. Citizens, not government officials, should be able to decide what’s best for them in terms of healthcare, particularly when it comes to nutrition.

A recent study on the effects of sugary drink consumption among teenagers has given fodder to both sides of the argument. The study was recently released in the New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists observed the drinking habits of over 200 teenagers during a yearlong period by splitting them into two groups: one group could drink sugary sodas (or anything their parents permitted, for that matter) at their leisure, while another group was regularly sent a supply of non-sugary drinks and received counseling to help wean them off sodas. The point of the study was to see if either group gained or lost weight during this year period.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 01: Various sizes of soft ...

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 01: Various sizes of soft drink cups sit on a beverage dispenser in a fast food restaurant on June 1, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. In an attempt by the administration to fight obesity, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans yesterday to implement a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. The ban has proved controversial with many people saying it will not decrease obesity and will be a further erosion of personal choice. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

As you might imagine, the group of teenagers regularly sent non-sugary drinks lost a little weight—around 4 pounds on average—over the course of the year while the teenagers in the control group either gained weight or stayed the same. So the kids given the non-sugary drinks had effectively “kicked the habit,” right?

Wrong. According to the study, upon following up with the kids who had been drinking non-sugary drinks over the previous year researchers found that many of the teenagers had gone back to drinking standard sodas and juices packed with sugars and calories. The teens had avoided sugary drinks when they were basically fed an alternative, but once that source as gone they reverted to the old standards.

So how does this complicate matters? For one thing, it shows how strongly many teens feel about sugary drinks. Even after drinking non-sugary drinks for a year, these teens opted to return to drinking sodas and the like once the study had ended. In other words, it was only through constant coaching that these teens were able to curb their habits. The upside of this coaching was that they were healthier than before, but once the structure of that coaching was gone, so went their discipline to avoid sugary drinks.

Does that mean that the government needs to constantly monitor the eating and drinking habits in order to keep them healthy? The trend started by the soda ban in New York City suggests that the answer to that question could be yes, but there’s no clear consensus on the matter.

While the science definitely points towards problems when it comes to drinking sodas, the majority of the public just isn’t convinced that regulation is the right choice. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Amelia Wood is a freelance health and science blogger writing for medicalbillingandcoding.org. When she’s not writing about the latest health and wellness headlines, Amelia is probably biking on some wilderness trail or writing short stories in her spare time. Feel free to send a comment or two her way!

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About Richard Nelson

Freelance science writing all day and night. I'm an expert at writing, marketing, and publishing. Providing writing services nearly everyday, SEO rich articles about science and tech are my specialties. I also love to make money so I'm for hire as an independent communications expert and business consultant with specializations in project management, writing, science, and engineering. With a vast network of professionals in various fields backed by two degrees, 180 credits hours, 6 graduate courses and several awards and recommendations along the way, who could go wrong?

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