Health Risks of Soda: Is it Really so Bad?

How unhealthy is soda?
How unhealthy is soda?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been hit with a backlash of dissent in recent days for his proposed ban on the sale of sodas and other sweetened drinks in containers over 16 ounces. Some critics have gone so far as to say the mayor's proposal is a "fascist" attack on American freedom. Is soda really so unhealthy that it needs to be regulated?

Related: Movie Theater Owners Fight Back Against Mayor Bloomberg's "Nanny Approach" Soda Ban

Soda and obesity

About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reports there is a strong link between the consumption of soda and weight gain. Soda accounts for about 7% of our average daily calorie intake-the largest percentage of any single food source. Soda contains empty calories, and drinkers are less likely to feel full consuming a sweetened beverage than if they were eating the same amount of calories in food. Just one soda a day can add up to 15 pounds of fat gained over the course of a year.

Soda and chronic disease

Soda is a dumping ground for cheap sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. One can contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar. To avoid health risks, the American Heart Association recommends that adults consume less than six teaspoons a day. Kids are limited to three teaspoons. Many teens consume nearly 34 teaspoons a day, mainly through soft drinks.

Related: Is Diet Soda Addictive?

Guzzling soda sends blood sugar spiking. Over time this can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and maybe even cancer. Researchers at HSPH say that people who drink as little as one 12-ounce soda daily are 50 percent more likely to have developed metabolic syndrome-a group of factors that can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke, and diabetes.

If teens continue to drink large amounts of soda, this could mean serious health consequences for a large percentage of adults in the coming decades.

Soda and bone health

Another issue for growing young people is bone health. As kids and teens drink more soda, they consume less milk. Milk contains calcium for building strong bones as well as protein and other important nutrients. Colas also contain phosphates, minerals that can harm bone density if consumed in a disproportionate amount to calcium. Studies show links between cola consumption and osteoporosis in older women.

Soda and tooth decay

With so much attention being focused on obesity, the link between tooth decay and soda is frequently overlooked. It's not just the sugar but also the acidity in soft drinks that can "aggressively" harm teeth by eroding enamel studies show.

While an occasional soda isn't bad for you, the problem is the approximately 50 gallons a year that the average person drinks over many years- even decades. As for freedom, Bloomberg's ban doesn't actually limit how much soda you can purchase at one time, it curtails buying huge containers advertised as single servings. A recent infographic by the Centers for Disease Control shows how, over the last 50 years, beverage sizes have ballooned from a modest 7 ounces to a huge 42 ounces.

Since we haven't been particularly good at self-regulating-especially our consumption of cheap, abundant sugar, maybe it's time for a push from our government. In a June 1, 2012 letter to the New York Times, Walter Willet, chair of the department of nutrition at the HSPH writes: "Of course, this alone won't halt the epidemics of these diseases sweeping our country, but it is a valuable and creative step in the right direction that deserves the support of everyone who cares about the well-being of our children and all Americans."

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