Diet Cola – does one drink lead to another problem?

Thursday 16th October, 2008

It says ‘diet’ on the can, it must be okay to drink if you’re overweight, right? Well, perhaps not. The latest statistics from the US suggest that diet fizzy drinks may actually be causing obesity rather than helping to reduce it.

The soft drinks industry is worth around $70 billion and so called ‘diet drinks’ rake in around 30% of the cut alone. Coca-Cola branded drinks are consumed at over 1 billion servings per day with ‘Diet Coke’ one of their biggest draws.

In the States last year, Coca-Cola launched their ‘Diet Coke Plus’ and it is proving to be a bubbling success. Diet Coke Plus contains vitamins and minerals and is aimed at the growing trend for drinks to be functional as well as tasty.

So what’s in it?  According to Coca-Cola, low-levels of Niacin (vitamin B3), vitamins B6 and B12, zinc and magnesium (15% Daily Value [DV] for Niacin, B6 and B12, 10% DV for zinc and magnesium). Branded as beverage that is not only calorie free, but a good source of several essential minerals and vitamins, is Diet Coke Plus, along with other calorie controlled drinks, actually doing more harm than good?

A study revealed in the American Journal of Public Health has highlighted that 50% of infants in the States were regularly given sweet, fizzy or fruit-flavoured drinks within their first four months – a shocking statistic that touches upon the obesity problem we all face. America, along with other Western countries like the UK, is becoming a nation of obese people. Latest statistics suggest over 60% of adults are now classed ‘obese’ with nearly 20% of children in the same category.

Consuming too many fizzy or soft drinks has long been tied to the obesity problem. And a diet high in sugar, coupled with a lack of activity, is also causing a type 2 diabetes epidemic. It is, perhaps, easy to think that a product with the word ‘diet’ attached would be helpful for those who want to lose weight due to the reduced calorie content. Maybe not.

According to the results of the San Antonio Heart Study, the more diet fizzy drinks a person consumes the higher the risk that they will become overweight or obese.

“On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years and 41 percent more likely to become obese,” said Sharon Fowler, MPH, faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Centre in San Antonio.

And aggressive marketing by the industry isn’t helping the problem. Vending machines full of fast food, soft drinks and snacks are ubiquitous in Schools and Colleges around the world. With governments, schools and parents trying to promote better dietary choices and routine exercise for children, they are facing a battle with mega-corporations that have the resources and finances to overwhelm the fight at the expense of health.

Coca-Cola say they are offering further choice to meet the demands of a more health-aware global population.

“Consumers, including Diet Coke drinkers, are increasingly looking for more beverage options, and we wanted to offer them the convenience of a calorie-free beverage that is a good source of several essential vitamins and minerals, and one that delivers on the great taste that they have come to expect from us,” said Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Brands, Coca-Cola North America in the press release for Diet Coke Plus last year.



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