Local teens guzzling more sugary drinks despite health risks, study finds

jlavelle@thetribunenews.comOctober 17, 2013 

Central Coast children, or at least their parents, seem to have gotten the message that guzzling soda and other liquid sugar isn’t the best health choice.

Teens are another matter.

A new statewide study shows that teens between 12 and 17 are downing more soda and sugary drinks, while the rate has dropped among children ages 2 to 11.

The Central Coast and San Luis Obispo are the most dramatic examples of the trend, researchers say.

“The Central Coast had the largest drop in consumption among younger kids and the largest increase among older kids in the state,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which produced the study in collaboration with the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

“So there’s good news and bad news,” Goldstein said. “The younger kids are consuming less. That’s a result of parents understanding how unhealthy these drinks are for younger kids whose soda consumption they can control. The picture is different for teens, who have independent buying power.”

That’s the case with Luke Gibson, 16, who said he drinks Coke every day despite his mother’s advice.

“I like to drink Coke a lot, at least a bottle a day, and I occasionally drink energy drinks,” Luke said while standing outside San Luis Obispo High School on Thursday. “My mom tries to tell me I shouldn’t but I kind of ignore it. She doesn’t buy it for me so I buy it myself.”

John San Jule, 12, also ignores the advice of his parents and 15-year-old sister, Jacqueline.

“I like soda a lot, so I drink it a lot, probably every other day,” John said on his way to batting practice at the campus. “My parents say it’s bad for you and for your teeth, and my sister says I’m going to get fat. But I know I won’t.”

The new study, “Still Bubbling Over: California Adolescents Drinking More Soda and Other Sugar-Sweetened Beverages,” was based on interviews with more than 40,000 California households.

It shows that 64 percent of Central Coast adolescents ages 12 to 17 drank at least one soda or sugar drink a day in 2011-12. That was in contrast to 57 percent in 2005-07. That 12 percent increase was the highest by region in the state.

On the flip side, just 21 percent of Central Coast children ages 2 to 11 drank at least one soda or sugary drink a day in 2011-12, down from 35 percent in 2005-07. That dramatic 40 percent drop was the largest by any region in the state.

The study didn’t break down the numbers into the two age groups for San Luis Obispo County but noted an overall 9 percent increase in sugar drink consumption among kids ages 2 to 17 between 2005-07 and 2011-12.

The 9 percent jump meant “the increase in consumption among older kids overwhelms the decrease by younger kids,” Goldstein said.

Statewide, children ages 2 to 11 decreased their sugary habit from 37 percent in 2005-07 having at least one drink per day to 27 percent in 2011. The percentage of teens ages 12 to 17 statewide who drank at least one sugary drink rose from 60 percent in 2005-07 to 65 percent in 2011-12.

Health consequences

Researchers called the pattern among teenagers disturbing because that sugar punch of empty calories can have lifelong consequences in increased rates of obesity.

Childhood obesity is associated with serious health risks including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, joint problems and type 2 diabetes. Rates of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, once almost unknown among children, have jumped alarmingly, with some studies showing 23 percent of people under 20 with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes.

“Sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks are pouring half a billion calories a day into the bodies of California kids,” Goldstein said.

The biggest culprit is the $392 million that soda and sports drink producers spend annually to market their products primarily to young consumers, he said, including Pepsi’s current campaign using Beyonce and Katy Perry to promote their product.

Closer to home, a loophole in state law allows schools to sell sports drinks on campus. State law banned soda sales on elementary and middle school campuses in 2003 and on high school campuses in 2005.

“It’s definitely time to plug that loophole and make sure our public schools only sell healthy drinks,” Goldstein said.

San Luis Coastal Unified School District campuses don’t sell sugar- and caffeine-packed energy drinks like Monster or Rockstar, said Kathy Chavez, district director of food services.

“We do sell an electrolyte replacement beverage, Gatorade,” she said.

Chavez said the district follows food service guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Education. That allows the district to sell 20-ounce bottles of an electrolyte replacement drink on the high school campuses, 12-ounce bottles at middle schools, and none at elementary schools.

“But I do see them bringing energy drinks and Monster drinks,” she said. “What they bring on their own, we have no control over.”

Chavez said most often, she’s seen students bring sports drinks to after-school sports practice.

“But unless you’re a triathlete you don’t need electrolyte replacement drinks,” she said. “Most coaches will say water is all you need.”

Chavez says the district tries to reinforce that message by selling water for 75 cents and Gatorade for $2.

The cost may be a factor in why only about one 24-bottle case of Gatorade is sold a day at San Luis Obispo High, she said.

“Except on the five days a year when it’s 85 degrees out, then we’ll sell two cases,” she laughed.

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