Perhaps the greatest challenge to a healthy lifestyle in the United States today is the incorporation of carbonated soft drinks into individual diets. This is especially true when it comes to feeding teenagers and younger children. The sale of carbonated soft drinks in elementary, middle and high schools is of particular concern to parents and consumer groups.
Fueled by aggressive and effective marketing to schools and the general public, carbonated soft drinks have grown into a multi-billion dollar business. In supermarkets, newspapers, television and radio, and the print media, soft drink manufacturers aggressively spend money to spread their message of supposed good health and refreshment.
However, evidence is gradually emerging that soft drinks are not good for individual health and changes are needed to ensure and establish a healthy lifestyle for the soft drink consumer.
Properties of carbonated soft drinks
Carbonated soft drinks are widely consumed and present a unique problem. Although water-based, much of their flavor and appeal comes from the addition of significant amounts of sugar, sugar substitutes, and other unhealthy chemicals. However, a good part of their appeal comes from promoting the products in a way that appeals to younger customers.
Drinks high in sugar stimulate the pancreas, increase insulin levels and throw the body out of its natural fat-burning state. Coles, in particular, contain caffeine, sugar, sodium and acid, which are extremely destructive to human tissues…
Effect on youth
High levels of carbonated soft drinks have been linked to increases in childhood obesity. Obesity is a major health problem for both adults and children. A rise in childhood obesity leads to a rise in the rate of diabetes and other types of systemic health problems.
Over the past two decades, the incidence of obesity among adults and children has increased by nearly 50 percent. According to federal standards, about 30 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are now considered obese.
Selling carbonated soft drinks is a major business for large companies, and advertising is a key component of the marketing mix. The messages communicated in an effective marketing campaign are powerful and subtle for all listeners, especially children and teenagers who have not yet developed a frame of reference that enables understanding.
In a recent article by Susan Linn and Diane E. Levin examining the impact of advertising on children, the authors conclude
Over the past decade, techniques for marketing unhealthy foods to children have become more sophisticated, subtle, and effective. The marketing of junk food in schools is a growing industry that includes direct mail, sports team sponsorship and involvement in fundraisers that bring income to schools for activities. The media are increasingly dominated by advertising money from the food industry. Some estimates of total food advertising budgets exceed $30 billion and counting.
Childhood obesity has increased significantly in the United States in recent years. Unhealthy weight gain due to poor diet and lack of exercise is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year, and obesity in all forms costs society more than $90 billion annually.
There are also indirect effects of obesity. In a recent study, Dr. Ramin Alemzadeh , MD states that
“Diabetes is not the only problem associated with childhood obesity. Obese children may have greater problems with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, orthopedic problems, sleeping habits, and self-esteem and peer relationships.”
dr Alemzadeh cites studies showing that adults who were obese children continue to face significant health and social difficulties later in life.
Non-alcoholic beverages at school
Parents are often told that it is their job to promote healthy eating, even when companies are undermining their efforts by spending billions of dollars selling junk food to children. This is leading to a spate of food industry ads promoting unhealthy eating, from cereal boxes and TV ads at home to vending machines for drinks and snacks at school. Approximately 10,000 unhealthy food advertisements by the food industry are targeted at children aged 3 to teens each year. 95% of these ads promote fast food, candy, sweetened cereal and soft drinks.
From the school board to the statehouse, however, soft drinks efforts to ban sugary foods and tackle childhood obesity are being discussed nationwide. This heightened awareness is beginning to take effect, but more effort is needed.
Solving the problem requires efforts at all levels. Consumer protection groups are pressuring the US Congress and the US government, and efforts are being made at the state level to curb aggressive advertising. In response, suppliers have increased their promotional efforts, and many schools, amid ongoing budgetary pressures, often supplement their income with proceeds from soda and candy fundraisers and Booster Club sales. Despite food manufacturers’ massive advertising budgets, however, targeted efforts by consumer groups and parents are well underway.
What can parents do?
It’s easy to blame the big corporations that make soft drinks and other fast food products, but ultimately the solution to the problem lies with the parents and family. School programs are subject to public scrutiny and contributions from concerned parents can be particularly effective.
The American Dietetic Association and the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools offer suggestions on how to improve your child’s diet at school and at home:
- Familiarize yourself with the menu. Keep a current school lunch menu and discuss it with your child. Talk about healthy choices. Many schools offer choices that follow good nutrition guidelines if students are making the right choices.
- Ask questions. Find out who drinks decides what’s for lunch. Who determines the school guidelines for vending machines and snacks in the canteen and in the school shop?
- Join us. Join or start a parent association for the school feeding program. Learn how parents and students can participate in the decision-making process.
- Support school nutrition education efforts. If your school has an edible garden, volunteer to help. If there isn’t one, create one. Sustainable Table has information on how to start one.
- Encourage your child to pack their own lunch. Help him choose healthy foods that are fun, such as: B. cheese, fruit, carrot sticks and pudding cups. If he wraps it up, he’ll be more likely to eat it.
- Make your child a savvy media consumer. Children are bombarded with TV ads for sugary cereals and treats. Point out the techniques advertisers use to make their products attractive.
- Teach your child nutritional information. Making a game out of trying to figure out how many names there are for “sugar” on a label will help her reading skills and make her a savvy consumer.
- Stand up for the laws you want. Write to your representatives at the state and federal levels. Express your concern about school lunches, the placement of vending machines at your child’s school, or physical education program requirements.