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For Immediate
October 21, 1998

Corrected November 3, 1998

For more information:

Soft Drinks Undermining Americans’ Health
Teens Consuming Twice as Much ‘Liquid Candy’ as Milk

Teenage boys and girls drink twice as much soda pop as milk, whereas 20 years ago they drank nearly twice as much milk as soda. That’s one key finding from a new report published today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), publisher of the Nutrition Action Healthletter.

According to the report, "Liquid Candy," teens drink great quantities of soda. CSPI reported that government data reveal that the average 12- to 19-year-old male who consumes soda pop drinks more than two cans per day, while the average female consumes 1 cans a day.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit CSPI displayed the 868 cans of soda pop that the average 12- to 19-year male soda drinker drinks annually.

CSPI’s new analyses of 13- to 18-year-olds found that five percent of male soft-drink drinkers down about five or more cans a day and five percent of female drinkers consume more than three cans a day. That’s 80 percent more than 20 years ago.

Overall, Americans are consuming twice as much soda pop as they did 25 years ago. And they’re spending $54 billion a year on it. That’s twice what Americans spend on books.

In a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, CSPI urged the department to commission the National Academy of Sciences to study the health impact of soda pop. CSPI also called for numerous reforms to reduce soft-drink consumption, including more water fountains, soda-free schools, and health-education campaigns funded by state taxes on soda.

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, said, "Many teens are drowning in soda pop. It’s become their main beverage, providing many with 15% to 20% of all their calories and squeezing out more-nutritious foods and beverages from their diets. It’s time that parents limited their children’s soft-drink consumption and demanded that local schools get rid of their soft-drink vending machines, just as they have banished smoking."

Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes, a bone-disease expert at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, said, "I’m particularly concerned about teenage girls. Most girls have inadequate calcium intakes, which makes them candidates for osteoporosis when they’re older and may increase their risk for broken bones today. High soda consumption is a concern because it may displace milk from the diet in this vulnerable population."

Studies described in "Liquid Candy" indicate that diets high in sugary foods like soft drinks may increase the risk of heart disease in "insulin resistant" adults. Other research links cola consumption to kidney stones in men.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other companies are relentless marketers, having spent over $6 billion in the last decade on advertising. Recently, they have started paying big bucks for exclusive marketing rights in schools and other locations frequented by adolescents. For instance, Coca-Cola is paying the Boys & Girls Clubs of America $60 million to make its company’s products the only brands sold in more than 2,000 clubs.

Marianne Manilov, the executive director of the Center for Commercialism-Free Public Education (based in Oakland, California), castigated schools "for sacrificing their students’ health by selling out to Coca-Cola. The marketing agreements virtually ensure that more kids will be drinking more soda -- while their health classes are discouraging consumption. Taxpayers must provide school systems with adequate funds so schools don’t become reliant on junk-food companies."

At the press conference, CSPI displayed baby bottles with Pepsi, Seven-Up, and Dr Pepper logos. Those companies have licensed their logos to a major maker of bottles, Munchkin Bottling, Inc. One study found that parents are four times more likely to feed their children soda pop when their children use those logo bottles than when they don’t.

CSPI charged that soft-drink companies are mounting "predatory" marketing campaigns aimed at children and adolescents. One Pepsi commercial shown at the press conference shows a young man and young woman with soda pop spewing from pierced lips, ears, and other body parts. Commercials for high-caffeine products, like Coca-Cola Company’s Surge, appeal to teens who are looking for legal stimulant drugs.

CSPI cited bigger serving sizes as a major reason for increased consumption. In the past 40 years, bottles and cans have ballooned from 6 ounces to 12 ounces and recently to 20 ounces. Interestingly, back in the 1950s, Coke’s "family size" bottle was only 26 ounces. The Center dubbed 7-Eleven’s 64-ounce, 600-calorie "Double Gulp" the "Pop Belly Special."

Diet drinks don’t have the sugar and calories of regular soft drinks. But they still replace more-healthful beverages in the diet. Moreover, at least two artificial sweeteners -- acesulfame-K, used in the new Pepsi One, and saccharin -- are worrisome and may promote cancer, according to CSPI.

Perhaps "Liquid Candy"’s most controversial recommendation is that states tax soda pop to help fund major campaigns to improve diets, build bike paths and recreation centers, and support physical-education programs in schools. Arkansas takes in $40 million annually from its two-cent-per-can tax. Tennessee, Washington state, and West Virginia also tax soda, while industry lobbying has won repeals in New York, North Carolina, and several other states.

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