Guest Opinion By Matthew Bradley
Sugar in drinks
It should come as no surprise to readers that we are consuming too much sugar. But not everyone may realize that Canadians are not crunching on these sugary calories — we’re drinking them. That’s right — a large portion of our dietary sugar comes from sugar-sweetened beverages.
Sugar-sweetened beverages can include pop or soft drinks (but not diet drinks), fruit drinks (such as punch or cocktail), sport drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks. Research reveals that per capita consumption of soft drinks in Canada reached 73.2 litres in 2008, with pop, energy and sports drinks the major culprits. Portion sizes are a key driver in over-consumption. A 16-ounce bottle, once intended to serve three, is now a small single serving size that in larger sizes can exceed 40 ounces.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are a leading cause of obesity, currently at unprecedented levels in Canada. Being obese can in turn lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
In a recent Heart and Stroke Foundation poll, 94 per cent of respondents would support action on portion sizes. It seems that the will is there — so what is the way?
The obvious place to start is at home. ’Tis the season, giving rise to frequent family get-togethers and outings and lots of beverages on hand for those drop-in-guests.
Invited to or hosting a holiday party? Watch out for that punchbowl! Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties can be sugary landmines. Tonic or soda water are refreshing and also make great mixers for your favourite potent potable with a twist of lemon. Wine lovers beware — keep in mind the sugar lurking in that bottle of chardonnay. Serve your guests a three- or five-ounce glass, or ask them if they’d like to combine it with soda water for a spritzer.
These are just a few suggestions on how we can start at home in reducing our consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages during the holiday season and beyond. Sugary drinks are not the only culprit contributing to the obesity epidemic but studies show they are our biggest source of extra calories. So doesn’t it make sense to assume that limiting their consumption would be a good start toward changing these alarming statistics?
For real change at a societal level we need to start a discussion and create a groundswell of support for regulations that will culminate in healthier choices, healthier options, and ultimately healthier communities. The trend toward over-consumption that has resulted in unprecedented levels of obesity didn’t happen overnight and sugary drinks certainly aren’t the sole culprit.
Change is rarely easy and never immediate. But think back to how long it took for public awareness campaigns about the dangers of tobacco use, along with taxes and legislation limiting where people could light up, to result in a decline in smoking rates. Let’s start the conversation now to encourage regulations around the availability and pricing of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The alternative action around these unhealthy levels of sugar in our daily diets is to take no action. That would be a tragedy both in terms of our families’ health and our already over-burdened health-care system.
Matthew Bradley is chair of the board of directors,
Heart and Stroke Foundation, P.E.I.