It’s no secret that the over-consumption of soda and sugary drinks—sports drinks, energy drinks and sweetened fruit drinks—contributes to the high rates of obesity in the United States. Most of these drinks are high in calories and have little or no nutritional value. These drinks also cause diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cavities. But Americans are still drinking an average of 50 gallons per year, which equals about 40 pounds of sugar.
The biggest effort to reduce consumption of soda and sugary drinks right now is in New York as Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on sales of soda larger than 16 ounces back in May. The debate is heating up as the two sides bring reasoned arguments to the NYC health board on July 24. But aside from all the commotion in the Empire State, The Atlantic Cities news site predicted that Seattle might be the next major city that could try to ban large sugary drinks.
According to a King County Public Health report in 2012, one in five youth is overweight or obese and 55 percent of adults were either obese or overweight. Anne Pearson, the Strategic Policy Advisor of Public Health in Seattle and King County, added that one in three high school kids in King County drinks soda everyday—that is about 26,000 kids.
Sadly, the rates of obesity and overweight are even higher in communities of low-income people and communities of color. King County Public Health’s data watch released in March 2012 reported “youth of color have higher rates of obesity and overweight relative to white youth, similar to the pattern seen nationally.”
Within those minorities groups, the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (NHPI) group has the highest rate with 39 percent. The NHPI “students are also about two times as likely as white, non-Hispanic students to be overweight and three times as likely to be obese.” Non-NHPI Asian Americans are the lowest with only 17 percent, Pearson said, but Asians should still be concerned about the low rate.
“The consumption of sugary drinks among Asian youth is lower compare to other ethnic racial groups, but it’s still significant,” Pearson said. “About 27 percent of Asian high school students drink at least one sugary drink everyday. That’s one in every four.”
Aliya Haq, Nutritionist/WIC Supervisor and Program Coordinator at International Community Health Services (ICHS), previously worked on a project concerning obesity of kids within minorities groups. About 30-40 percent of the 90 kids enrolled in the project were Asian.
“It’s beginning to seem as though more and more Asian kids are now fallen victims to obesity,” Haq said. “They are not just overweight, but actually obese.”
She mentioned that though the percentage of obese and overweight Asian youth might be relatively small now, looking at the statistics of changing demographics, by 2040 or 2050, the Asian population will triple in number, while other minorities such as Hispanics will only double. Apply this to the current rate of obesity and overweight Asians in King County and the percentage will be 33 to 51 percent overweight and 18 percent obese.
There’s also expressed concern towards Asian grandparents. One problem is grandparents consuming too many carbohydrates, according to Gary Tang, Aging Adult Services Department Director at Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS). The other factor is grandparents providing sugary drinks for their grandchildren. Some parents who come to see Haq at the ICHS usually do limit the consumption of sugary drinks and food for their children, but when they are gone during the day, the grandparents tend to spoil the grandchildren with sugary treats, she explained.
Bottom line is it’s important to educate the public about the consequences of consuming unhealthy food and beverages, said Haq.
The King County Public Health Department is constantly promoting healthy eating and physical activity through strong policies for youth. It has worked on campaigns such as the Let’s Do This Campaign and Soda Free Sundays with the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition (COPCWA).
“Working together, we can overcome our youth obesity crisis so that our kids can live healthier,” said the King County Public Health Department.