Where 'O, Where Has My Little Waist gone...

by Alexandra Allred

Have you ever noticed how tiny the women's (and men's) waists were in the 1950s and 1960s? Everyone seemed to have teeny, tiny waistlines. But in the new millennium, medical experts are extremely worried about people's ever expanding waistlines. And fashion designers are mortified. Can you blame them? Britney Spears made low-riding pants and belly-bearing cropped t-shirts the fashion anthem for teenagers everywhere. Forget your feelings on modesty. We're not here to argue whether such clothing is appropriate or not. (However, you'll never see my kid wearing that, and, if you do, please call me, because it means she changed behind my back.) The issue, instead, is clean when you look at those oversized kiddy bellies poking out from beneath those cropped tops: the expanding waistline problem is no longer an adult-only issue.

Children today are overweight. Yea, yea, you've read this a hundred times. We all nod sympathetically about this problem, but what are we really doing about it? And if you think I am about to lecture you about what we're not doing - not getting enough exercise, for example - you're wrong. Medical and fitness/nutritionist experts are as concerned about what we are doing as much as they are concerned about what we're not. Specifically, we are allowing ourselves and our children to consume way too much sugar. We are what we drink.

We Americans love our liquid candy. Despite the fact that we've been told that too much consumption of caffeine is unhealthy for us, bad for our skin, makes some children more hyperactive, creates --'rebound' -- or caffeine headaches (meaning you have become addicted to the caffeine - never a good sign) and has been related to the increased number of bone fractures in children, we continue to slurp away. Scores of articles and studies have been researched and written about the invasion of soft drink corporations into the school systems. In many places around the nation, schools have finally begun to ban the sale of said drinks on school grounds. But it is not enough. Sales are still higher and people are still fatter than ever. Why?

The first answer is easy. Soda drinks are addictive so we crave more and, they're yummy and relatively cheap so the demand is high. The second answer is that soda, even diet sodas, and many fruit drinks are loaded with sugar, creating a thicker middle.

Let's look at four kinds of popular drinks our kids consume on a daily basis: sodas, diet sodas, sports drinks, and juices. Studies show that a person drinking 20-ounces of soda and/or sports drinks a day will gain an average of 20-25 pounds a year. While the studies were performed on adults, imagine what this is doing to your child and take a hard look at the waistline. Diet soda-drinkers added an alarming 15 pounds per year to their waistlines. (For more fascinating reading about the soda industry and our body fat, check out Food Fight by Dr. Kelly Brownell). Another drawback of the seemingly endless selection of "diet" drinks is that scientists speculate that these diet drinkers also eat more fat to compensate for fewer calories in soft drinks. In the same study, people who substituted water and/or milk for diet and sweetened soda drinks lost those 15 to 25 pounds, ate more healthily, and reported feeling more full.

Purdue University got with the program and studied the effects of soda drinks on children. The subjects increased their calorie intakes by about 18% per day during two 4-week periods. One group was given jelly beans (solid calories) and the other group was given soda drinks (liquid calories). Those who consumed solid calories ate less throughout the day, compensating for what they felt they had already eaten - the jelly beans. And they gained less weight than the other group. The liquid group, as we have seen time and time again, never felt full and continued to eat, adding as many as 500 calories each to their daily intakes.

The fruit drinks aren't much better. Because the labels or names alone can be confusing for both adults and kids, we allow more liquid candy to invade our homes and the bodies of our children. Snapple and Minute Maid drinks are extremely high in sugar. Many drinks that promote themselves as fruit drinks have less than 30% actual juice, the rest of the ingredients being all sugar. But one of the fastest growing drinks in the drink industry is the sports drink. We like to think they are more healthful for our kids but the reality is they are designed for elite athletes who engage in at least 90 minutes of intense exercise training per day. Both Powerade and Gatorade are high in glucose, fructose, and high-fructose corn syrup. Translation: sugar. Certainly sports drinks are better than soda drinks, but nothing beats water and milk. Before and after playing outside or playing a hard soccer game, kids should be encouraged to drink water. This will ensure proper hydration (soda dehydrates us), but it also cuts back on the desire for sugar (which leads to hypoglycemia and other medical problems).

While my own kids are lean, I decided to try an experiment. I was fascinated by the Purdue University experiment. So when my 8-year-old came home from school, I gave her a mug full of jelly beans - something I would never normally do. She was elated and happily ate her mug of sugar while watching T.V. A full hour later when my 5th grader came home, I offered her Coca-Cola. Again, my kid was elated and stunned. Coke is a no-no in my house. I wanted to see if the 5th grader (who normally has a much smaller appetite than the 3rd grader) would be hungry first. And I wanted to see if the 3rd grader, who usually whines for more food even after dinner, would feel somewhat satisfied by solid calories. But my experiment was flawed from the get-go. As soon as the 3rd grader realized her older sibling was actually getting to drink Coke, she no longer wanted the jelly beans, and the 5th grader who is older and wiser said she "felt a little funny" about drinking Coke and wanted the jelly beans. No! No! No! Then they swapped behind my back, shared the darned jelly beans with my four-year-old son (who definitely has no business being fed caffeine or sugar) and one of the dogs and then lied about it. Everyone was sent to his or her room and Pete, the Lab, later threw up in the backyard.

My non-scientific experiment aside, there is no doubt that the super-sized level of liquid candy consumption in this country is only hurting our children. As I sat nibbling jelly beans and sipping the last of the Coke, I reflected on my trip earlier that day to Cedar Hill where I stopped by Starbucks for my own favorite liquid candy. I don't drink soda drinks, but I do love a Grande White Chocolate Mocha with low fat milk. Who am I kidding? That's 420 calories and 23 grams of fat! I realized it all starts with the parents because we lead by example. With that, I am swearing off Starbucks and looking to a new, trimmer me. After all, we are what we drink.

Got milk? Besides the Purdue study, a recent Harvard study found that children who consumed sugar-sweetened drinks were most likely to be obese, while a study led by Norwegian scientists found milk-drinkers may be protected against the development of obesity, particularly in young adults. Additionally, soda drinkers were less likely to consume vegetables and fruits, whereas milk drinkers ate more well-balanced meals. Another strong argument for milk.

Alexandra AllredAlexandra Allred is a former member of the US Women's Bobsled team, is an accomplished martial artist, and continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She has interviewed hundreds of athletes, models, actresses, trainers, doctors, and health/fitness experts as she sought to find answers to her own questions about working out while pregnant, arranging breast-feeding around a training schedule, diet when pregnant and breastfeeding, and encouraging her whole family.

Alex is the author of ten books, including Atta Girl! A Celebration of Women in Sports and Entering the Mother Zone: Balancing Self, Health & Family.

Copyright © Alexandra Allred. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.