On a busy day, it's really easy to grab a soda while running errands or reward ourselves with a sweet coffee concoction after a rough day. For many, however, these beverages are more of an everyday staple as opposed to an occasional treat. That's a problem, as they contain a large number of calories and sugar that is doing a number on our health.
While many people know their beverage choices may not be healthy, it's a harder to habit to break than many may think. Research has shown that sugar affects the reward centers of the brain in a way not unlike drugs and alcohol, and food manufacturers know we're all hooked, though it's disastrous to our health. Since 1980, the amount of added sugar in foods has increased by 30 percent and the number of people who are obese has doubled in that same amount of time.
There may a way to break the habit that doesn't involve giving up all of our favorite drinks cold turkey or switching to artificial sugars.
According to a new study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, soda manufacturers could prevent a million cases of obesity in the U.K. alone by slowly reducing sugar content in the drinks over time. Because the population of the U.S. is about five times larger, there could be huge implications on this side of the pond as well.
While many of us have trained our brains to prefer sweet tastes, tapering off the sugar content little by little would give consumers time to adjust to the changing taste. It's possible that if done gradually, beverage manufacturers could reduce sugar content by as much as 40 percent in five years, without much shock to the palate.
There would be a dramatic difference, however, in the consumers' waistlines. Even if people kept up their current rates of soda or juice consumption, they would be cutting out hundreds of calories every day. This has the power to prevent a large number of people from becoming overweight or obese.
"This reduction would lead to a reduction of roughly 0.5 million adults from being overweight and 1 million adults from being obese, which in turn would prevent about 274,000–309,000 incident cases of obesity-related Type 2 diabetes over the two decades after the predicted reduction in bodyweight is achieved," the authors write in the paper.
Obesity and related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes result in higher medical bills and lost productivity at work that ends up totalling about $190 billion every year, with that figure expected to rise alongside obesity rates. Additionally, being obese puts people at an increased risk for hypertension, certain cancers, stroke, and other conditions that are some of the biggest causes of death in the country.
The authors also point out that biggest consumers of sweetened drinks often have the lowest income. These people are at a greater risk of financial ruin if an unexpected health problems arise, leaving them unable to work.
Slowly reducing the amount of sugar found in drinks is one small step that could do a lot of good making the world a healthier place.
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