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July 10, 2007 > Saying No to Soda This Summer is a Winning Endeavor

Saying No to Soda This Summer is a Winning Endeavor

Hospital Supports Campaign to Improve Residents' Awareness, Health

If asked to make a list of actions that could potentially be dangerous to our health and well being, drinking soda may not even make the top fifty. But if you talk to a member of Washington Hospital's team of health care professionals, heightened soda consumption poses a very real threat to the residents of Washington Township Health Care District, according to Kimberlee Alvari, the hospital's Clinical Nutrition Manager.

This is why Washington Hospital has joined in the Alameda County Public Health Department's Soda-Free Summer campaign to alert people of all ages and backgrounds to the pitfalls of excessive soda consumption.

"Soda is the No. 1 source of sugar in the American diet, and the average American consumes nearly 175 pounds a year or half a pound per day," Alvari explains. "It's no wonder that two out of three Americans are overweight or obese. Extra calories from all the sugar leads to weight gain, putting people at risk for lifelong health problems such as diabetes and heart disease."
The campaign aims to increase awareness throughout the community, but Alvari points out that soda consumption amongst children and teens in particular has increased dramatically in the last few decades. At the same time, milk consumption amongst these age groups has decreased. Notably, Alvari says, teenagers today consume twice as much soda as milk.

"The prevalence of becoming overweight among children and teens has increased since the 1980s," she says. "Diabetes will afflict one in three born in the year 2000, which potentially could result in a reduction in lifespan...staggering, but true."

Helping the community stay healthy

Washington Hospital's decision to participate in the campaign was simple, according to Alvari, who says part of the hospital's mission is to identify and assess the community's health care needs and provide education to meet those needs within the financial capabilities of the district.
"Plain and simple, it made very good sense and was the responsible thing to do," she says. "Our district residents are faced with rising rates of obesity and diabetes. Partnering with the Alameda County of Public Health on this initiative was a winning endeavor."

Reducing or eliminating the intake of sugary, carbonated beverages can have a number of positive effects on people's overall health. Calories from foods that are high in sugar, but contain little or no nutrition are often referred to by dietitians as "empty calories." The foods provide calories, but offer few nutritional benefits for health, according to Alvari.

"Sodas are really just a lot of sugar and water. The syrupy, sweet taste comes from high fructose corn syrup," Alvari says. "Some researchers believe that the sweetener has different metabolic effects on the body. They have been accused of being major contributors to health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers."

"The opposite of empty calorie foods are nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods are packed with healthy nutrients per calorie ratio, including things like fiber, vitamins, protein, complex carbohydrates, and minerals," adds Alvari. "When it comes to your health, you want to remember to choose the foods you eat by the 'company they keep'. In other words, eat foods with lots of healthy nutrients in them, not those lacking the 'healthy stuff'."

Less soda, fewer pounds

An added benefit to reducing soda consumption is that it's an easy way to help you lose excess weight, according to Alvari. She points out that 30 percent of the calories we consume daily come from sweetened beverages and that cutting out just one 20-ounce soda a day can result in as much as 25 pounds of weight loss in a year.

"When 'extra' calories are eliminated from the diet weight loss may ensue," she says. "Even a small amount of weight loss can improve chronic health conditions or reduce the risk of developing them."

So what are some alternatives to drinking soda daily? Alvari recommends some of the following beverage options to help curb soda cravings:
* Water with a slice of orange, lemon, lime or cucumber for flavor
* Non-fat or low-fat milk
* 100 percent fruit juice (limited to a half-cup serving)
* Unsweetened tea
* Diet soda (occasionally)

Long-term changes for better health

Alvari says that once people take a vacation from sugary carbonated beverages they often find that they are able to "re-set" their taste buds. By sticking with alternatives beverages for a month, it increases the odds that they will be able to kick the soda habit over the long haul, she says.

"We hope to make our community 'sugar-savvy'," Alvari says. "We're helping give community members the information they need to make healthy changes that will impact their health immediately and reverse the negative health trends in the future."

To learn more about Washington Hospital programs and services that benefit the community, visit www.whhs.com and click on "For Our Community."

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