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From Me to Oprah: Week #2: Shock and Pour: Soda and Obesity

December 15, 2009

For this week’s From Me to Oprah: Weekly Tips for Managing Weight and Life,  I decided to weigh in on the latest ad from the New York City Department of Health. In this 30-second video called “Are You Pouring on the Pounds?”  a man is shown drinking globs of what’s supposed to be fat. The video states that having one sugary soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter in a year. At the end of the video, we viewers are urged to not to drink ourselves fat; instead of soda, we should guzzle water, seltzer, and low fat milk.

I was interviewed about this video for last night’s local ABC affiliate broadcast. I was asked about my thoughts and feelings about the video, and whether it would be effective in fighting obesity and reducing sugary soda consumption. I’ll admit that I’m the last person to advocate making regular, sugary soda a dietary staple; my husband and I don’t drink it nor have we ever offered it to our boys (who are  11 and 7). In general, we seldom consume sugary beverages (including spiked decadent coffee beverages or energy drinks), though once in a while my husband and our 11 year old son, who mostly drink water and low fat milk, will have a sports drink like Gatorade at sports games or practices when they sweat a lot and burn tons of calories. Although I’m not a sugary soda fan, I also don’t think it’s the enemy and the cause of obesity in America.

Here, in a nutshell, are some of my other thoughts about the video:

1) The video uses shock value to get the anti-soda message across; a more understated ad that simply says drink less soda and more low fat milk and water would certainly get lost in cyberspace, so of course I completely understand why the NYC Department of Health went to an extreme in this case.

2) I found watching the video to be a disgusting exercise; and after warning my 11 year-old son about the content of the video, I did show it to him; he doesn’t drink soda anyway, and said this ad would certainly not make him want to either!

3) The video is a bit misleading. On one hand, soda can certainly be over consumed and the calories can definitely add up fast (especially because liquid calories are generally so much less filling than calories from solid foods and because soda portions are often huge–and the more you’re given, the more you tend to consume). On the other hand, studies have not proven that soda is the cause of obesity and overweight. Yes, the more soda you consume, the more likely you are to engage in other dietary behaviors that cause you to over consume calories and perhaps your overall diet is less healthful as well. And yes, sugary sodas provide so-called empty calories and few if any key nutrients, and too much soda can contribute to excess calorie intake (unless other dietary adjustments are made to keep daily calorie intake in check to support healthy weight management). But too many calories from any source–even healthful foods or beverages–can contribute to excess calorie intake and subsequent weight gain and/or obesity. Too little physical activity is of course the other side of the equation and can have a huge impact on your body weight, good or bad.

4) Unfortunately, I believe the healthful message of the video–consuming more water, seltzer and low fat milk–got lost under the globules of fat poured down the man’s throat and onto a plate.

As a registered dietitian, I often use the bees and honey analogy when communicating messages about nutrition and health. It may not get people talking, and may not be controversial or cause a stir, but it can and does help people change their behavior over time. I like to encourage people to focus first and foremost on their overall dietary pattern rather than on single foods. I encourage them to fill dietary gaps with more nutritious foods and beverages like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, and low fat dairy foods. Of course I encourage people to limit fatty, greasy, sugary, nutrient-poor foods (and to keep portions small if and when they consume such foods). For those who like sugary soda, I say it’s ok to drink it, but it should be counted as a treat (it has about the same number of calories as three small cookies).  I like to always point out diet rights and show people what they can and should have more of than point a finger at all the wrongs–the foods and beverages they should avoid because they’re supposedly evil.

Only time will tell if this negative video campaign will get people to drink less sugary soda, and opt instead for more healthful beverages. But for now, as always, I will continue to promote positive nutrition and health messages, and encourage people to consume more healthful foods from all the important food categories, and find ways to fit more physical activity  into their lives. In my mind, that’s a better recipe for long-term health and weight management.


One Comment leave one →
  1. December 16, 2009 12:53 pm

    Great points and I 100% agree that positive messages are more successful. What if they would have shown an overweight person losing 10 pounds in 1 year by drinking low fat milk and water instead of their sugar soda, tea, or juice aide drink? Would more people be apt to make a lifestyle change? However I do appreciate the fact that it has got people talking about what constitutes a healthy beverage. Congrats on another great broadcast!

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