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Soda flows freely in California

September 17, 2009 |  4:00 am

The stereotypical Californian may sip chai lattes or guzzle green tea, but we actually drink lots of soda.

In fact, 24% of California adults drink at least one soda or other sweetened beverage each day, and an additional 36% imbibe occasionally, according to a report released today by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

Sodafountain That’s nothing compared with kids. The report -- "Bubbling Over: Soda Consumption and Its Link to Obesity in California"-- says that 41% of children between ages 2 and 11 drink at least a soda a day, along with 62% of teens. An astounding 13% of 12-to-17-year-olds drink three or more sodas on a daily basis.

Obviously, this can’t be good for us. But how bad is it? The average daily intake for teens is 1.2 sodas. Assuming that each “soda” is a mere 12-ounce can – and many servings are much larger – that works out to 39 pounds of sugar a year.

Not surprisingly, the report links soda consumption to excess – and unhealthy – body weight. For instance, 62% of adults who drink soda daily are overweight or obese, compared with 52% who don’t drink soda at all (another surprisingly high figure). Put another way, adults who drink soda occasionally are 15% more likely to have a weight problem than those who abstain, and adults who drink it daily are 27% more likely.

The researchers ranked California counties according to soda consumption. Imperial County boasted the highest rate of daily soda-drinking among children (60.7%); Tulare County took top honors for teens (71%), and Kings County topped the list for adults (39.1%). On the other end of the spectrum, Marin County had the lowest rate of kids (18.4%) and adults (10.6%) who drank at least one soda per day. The lowest rate for teens was in Mendocino County (39%).

Why should we care? Carrying around extra pounds is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer and other causes of premature death. The annual cost of being overweight and obesity is $21 billion in California alone, according to another study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

The results are based on data collected from the 2005 California Health Interview Survey, which included more than 4,000 adolescents and 43,000 adults. Participants were asked about drinking soda, “such as Coke or 7-Up,” and about “fruit-flavored drinks such as lemonade or Sunny Delight.” The survey did not ask specifically about sports drinks like Gatorade – which have recently joined the ranks of sugary beverages that public health experts like to discourage – so the results probably understate the number of calories Californians consume in liquid form, said the report’s lead author, UCLA research scientist Susan Babey.

Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean. The survey was funded by state agencies, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and private foundations.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Soda fuels California teens, according to a new report.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

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