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.