Across the nation, headlines are buzzing with New York City’s proposed plan to ban the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, street carts and many other city eateries. The proposal, which requires the approval of the Board of Health, would not apply to many beverages such as diet soda, fruit juice, or dairy-based drinks, nor would it extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores. 

While there have been many initiatives throughout the country aimed at reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, this proposal is unique in its approach by targeting the actual size of the drinks sold. Led by the Bloomberg administration, this idea is receiving both praise and criticism. 

At LiveWell Colorado, we certainly would like to see a reduction in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). While obesity is a very complex problem with numerous contributing factors, SSBs – with their highly concentrated levels of sugar and “empty” calories – are contributing to our state and country’s obesity epidemic. 

Many individuals might be surprised to learn that more than half of the added sugars in the U.S. diet come from SSBs. One 12-ounce soda can have as much sugar as two candy bars – or about nine teaspoons of sugar. While we may think twice before downing two large candy bars, we may not realize just how much sugar we’re easily – and quickly – consuming with drinks. If you don’t think this added sugar makes a big difference, think again. Drinking one soda a day can equal an extra 15 pounds of weight per year. 

Clearly, greater awareness is needed of the impacts of SSBs and their ever-increasing portion sizes. In 1950, a small drink was 7 ounces. Today, a children’s drink is 12 ounces and a small adult drink is 16 ounces. To put this in perspective, a 12-ounce can of soda is about 140 calories. It would take an average adult about 25 minutes of moderate walking to burn off those calories. Likewise, it would take a 75 lb child 30 minutes of vigorous biking.

While there may not be consensus about New York City’s approach to curbing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, it is positive that we’re having a dialogue about this subject, increasing awareness and potentially affecting cultural norms about what’s an acceptable drink size or how much sugar we want to put in our bodies. 

If you’re looking for a few ways to decrease your consumption of SSBs, here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Opt for water and always have a water bottle handy.
  • Check nutrition labels and remember that SSBs include energy drinks, sports drink and many flavored waters.
  • If you really feel a craving for a soda or juice, dilute it with water to decrease the sugar concentration.
  • Cut up fruit and add it to sparkling water for a delicious, fresh alternative.

You might also consider how and where you can influence drink options available for your family, friends and colleagues:

  • Contact Parks and Recreation if water isn’t available at your local park.
  • Provide water in a convenient and appealing manner at parties and work functions (large clear containers with sliced fruit, for example) and skip the SSBs.
  • Re-think the need to provide SSBs at children’s events, including soccer games.
  • Ask your health club, employer and others to stock vending machines with more lower calorie options.
  • Use smaller cups when entertaining.

Overall, try to be more cognizant of your consumption of SSBs. While you may reach for that occasional can of soda, just remember to do everything in moderation.