POSTSCRIPT / June 7, 2012 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Guzzling cola may be bad for one’s health

NEW YORK – They are still talking here of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale of soda and other sweetened drinks in containers over 16 ounces.

Bloomberg is arguing along the line of public health, noting that two-thirds of Americans are overweight mainly because of excessive sugar intake. One simply has to watch people walking by on Fifth Avenue to see how serious is the obesity problem here.

But the mayor’s critics, some of them merchants, have shunted the question to a matter of respecting the personal freedom of Americans to eat or drink what they want.

At what point may the government step in with regulations to guide consumers away from potentially harmful food and drinks?

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NO TOTAL BAN: The US Center for Disease Control notes that since 1950 the size of a hamburger has tripled, a basket of fries more than doubled, and the average soda has grown from 7 to 42 ounces. And the average American is 26 pounds heavier.
But Bloomberg is not advocating a total ban on soda and other sweetened drinks. He is just proposing that outlets not be allowed to dispense or serve soda in containers over 16 ounces.

If anyone wants more than the suggested quantity, obviously one way of going around the ordinance is to ask for a second or a third serving. The hassle might be enough to deter some people.

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SUGARY SODA: Just how much is 16 ounces? For comparison, a regular can of soda has 12 ounces. But there are smaller cans (in 6-packs) of only 8 ounces — as there are jumbo containers of 42 ounces!

Our PE teacher used to tell us that a bottle of Coke was loaded with five heaping tablespoons of sugar. I remember him when authorities now say that a can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Imagine yourself swallowing that much sugar and you would retch. Yet we innocently drink the sugary cola and keep going back for more.

Some people switch to “diet” soda, but they may just be exposing themselves to other risks because of the artificial sweetener added.

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INCREASED RISKS: Aware of sugar-related health risks, the American Heart Association recommends that adults consume less than six teaspoons of sugar a day, and kids only three.

But studies in the US have it that many teens consume nearly 34 teaspoons a day, mostly from soft drinks.

Health authorities have warned that excessive downing of soda – which some say is habituating – can send one’s blood sugar shooting up.

When then Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, testifying before the Senate, was hit by hypoglycemia (a low blood sugar episode), he was given canned cola.

Habitual soda-guzzling, it has been reported, can increase risks of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and sometimes even cancer.

Harvard researchers report that people who drink at least 12 ounces of soda daily are 50 percent more likely to develop a condition that can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke and diabetes.

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SODA OR COKE?: Please don’t tell anyone, but it was only in my early adulthood that I found out that “soft drinks” as we knew them in the Philippines were called “soda” in the USofA. LOL!

One time I was with friends on our way to Reno to tangle with one-armed bandits in the Nevada desert when we stopped at a rest area near Sacramento halfway from San Francisco.

As I emerged from the men’s room (still “CR” or comfort room to many of us), a companion dropping coins in the vendo asked me if I wanted soda.

(Back in our hometown, “soda” was a bottle of carbonated water that some people mixed with their hard drinks. I had tried it once — and renounced it forever for its sharp bitter taste.)

So, did I want soda in this Sacramento pit stop? “No,” I said. “Just give me a Coke, please.” He gave me a can of Coke, all right, which turned out to be exactly what he meant by “soda.”

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TOOTH DECAY: Back to soda, or soft drinks, or cola, or whatever name the sweet near poison is called….

The Harvard School of Public Health has reported that soda contains “empty calories,” that drinkers are less likely to feel full drinking a sweetened beverage than if they were eating the same amount of calories in food.

That is why, it said, just one can of soda a day is able to quietly produce up to 15 pounds of fat in a year.

Researchers have also found a link between sweet drinks and tooth decay. They report that it is not just the sugar but also the acidity in soft drinks that can “aggressively” harm teeth by eroding enamel.

Now I have an answer ready when Americans watching The Filipino Channel and the GMA-7 game shows on cable TV here ask why most Filipinos they see on the boob tube are toothless (bungal).

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SORRY PO: I hope friends in the beverage business will not take offense with this discussion on soft drinks or soda posing health hazards to those habituated to them.

In the same way that some sectors want warnings on the packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products – as they have them in some countries – maybe there should be similar warnings and appropriate state regulations for soda.

A related problem is the pouring of soft drinks into plastic bags in sidewalk stalls and sari-sari stores. The carbonated drink eats into the plastic and releases toxic substances into the liquid. And nobody minds.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 7, 2012)

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