Sugar high in beverages

Experts say consumers don't understand calorie, health impacts of sugary drinks

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Did you know?

Calorie requirements are unique to each person based on factors such as age, gender, weight, height, body composition and activity level. The average adult female — 40 years old, 5 feet 5 inches and weighing 140 pounds — and who maintains a healthy weight burns about 1,600 calories a day. The average adult male — 40 years old, 5 feet 10 inches and weighing 170 pounds — who maintains a healthy weight burns about 2,200 calories a day.

To calculate your estimated daily calorie needs, visit the Mayo Clinic website.

You might want to think twice before reaching for your next Big Gulp.

Those 32 ounces of Coca-Cola pack 400 calories and 27 teaspoons of sugar. That's about 25 percent of the average daily caloric needs for an adult woman -- 20 percent for a man -- and well above the maximum recommended amount of sugar a person should consume in a day, said Chris Collins, clinical dietitian with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

"It's not just soda," she said. "It's all the sugared drinks."

"And it's not so much the sugar in and of itself," she added, "it's the calories."

Drinks high in sugar translate to drinks high in calories. And those extra calories translate to extra pounds, Collins said.

The percentage of obese adults in the U.S. more than doubled between 1980 and 2000. The Institute of Medicine attributes 20 percent of the weight increase in the U.S. from 1977 to 2007 to sugar-sweetened beverages -- that includes soda, sports drinks, juices and flavored milk, among others.

"I don't think everybody is aware of the sugar content, especially in sodas," said Dr. Rosie Palisson, who works at Kaiser Permanente's Cascade Park clinic. "And I don't think people are aware of the limits of what they should be consuming."

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) -- or 100 calories -- of added sugar in a day. For men, the association recommends no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) -- or 150 calories -- of added sugar each day.

In reality, adults consume an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Teens consume even more, an average of 34 teaspoons a day.

Just one 12-ounce can of Pepsi -- 150 calories and 41 grams of sugar -- or a 20-ounce grape Powerade sports drink -- 125 calories and 35 grams of sugar -- surpass the daily sugar recommendations.

In addition, Collins said, the sugary drinks don't offer any nutritional benefits and are considered empty calories because they don't fill you up. In the case of the Big Gulp, a person will consume 400 calories and be hungry in an hour or less, Collins said.

"I don't think they understand the impact of how many calories they are consuming," she said.

Consuming more calories that your body needs results in weight gain. Being overweight or obese puts a person at risk for a myriad of health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory issues and even cancer, Collins said. Another health issue more spe

cifically related to excess sugar consumption is Type 2 diabetes, Palisson said.

Sugary drinks have become the center of controversy in New York City after Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on large servings of the drinks at restaurants, delis, food carts, sports arenas and movie theaters.

The ban would apply only to sweetened drinks bigger than 16 ounces and containing more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. It wouldn't affect diet soda, any drink that's at least 70 percent juice, or one that is at least half-milk or milk substitute. Nor would it apply to drinks sold in many supermarkets or convenience stores.

In order for the ban to go into affect, it needs only to win the support of the city's board of health, which was appointed by the mayor. The board recently voiced support for the big-soda ban, which could go into affect as soon as March 2013.

"I think that the ban in New York is a brave first step," Collins said. "I don't know if it will actually change behavior. We'll have to wait and see. But it certainly has raised the conversation about portion sizes."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546;;;