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Zorba Paster: Rethink what you drink

Eat your veggies. That’s what my mom used to say, and I bet that’s what your mom used to say, too. With my mom, that often meant canned peas and lima beans. Fresh was not her strong suit.

Sometimes we’d have a treat – a bottle of Coke. It was an 8-ounce bottle of Coke, not a 32-ounce bottle. Those hadn’t been invented yet.

What every mom and every dad should say today, along with eat those veggies, should be, stop drinking your calories.

That’s right, folks: Americans slurp down, now get this, 50 gallons of soft drinks a year for every man, woman and child. Drinking your calories is a sure way to obesity. Talk about a gateway drug – it’s soft drinks.

And I’m including juices, too. Ounce for ounce, a glass of orange juice or apple juice has just as many calories as Coke and Mountain Dew. Way too many.

Now, I’m not putting down juice. It’s not in the same category as Coke because it has other nutrients that are well worth drinking up. But don’t overdo it or you might get fat.

The same is true of milk. Yes, milk, although healthy, should be consumed in moderation.

I had a guy in my office the other day, and when I asked him how much soda he drank he said he never touched the stuff. When I asked about milk, I got a different answer – he said he drank about a half-gallon a day.

I told him that wasn’t good, but he countered that milk is healthy. He was drinking 1,200 calories a day and thought that was healthy.

What to do, what to do? We don’t want fat kids, and we don’t want fat kids to become overweight adults, but that’s what’s happening.

Just look around at any school and you’ll see what I mean. Go into a classroom and it becomes obvious. We’re not teaching our kids good eating habits.

Two recent studies have shown how some minor changes just might make a massive change in the obesity epidemic.

The first study took place in Mexico, where enlightened legislators put a tax on soft drinks. (Can you see that happening in this country? Hmmmm.) The tax reduced soft drink consumption by more than 10 percent.

And when they looked at the demographics, they found that poor people, who are more likely to be obese, cut soft drinks by nearly 25 percent. It worked just like cigarette taxes did to reduce unhealthy habits.

The next study came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Pediatrics publication. New York schools do not have soda, but they do have milk. And milk, although healthy, also has calories. So too much milk can lead to becoming fat.

The schools started installing water fountains that had nozzles to fill up water bottles. When they did this, the kids cut down on milk. This simple intervention changed behavior. And more than that, they discovered that the kids who could fill their water bottles started losing weight. Their body mass index readings improved.

My spin: I doubt if we’ll ever get a tax on soda. From New York to Oregon, the tax-the-soda movement has failed. So be it. But we can teach our kids to drink water, and we can do the same thing.

If you’re drinking your calories, think again. Just like those kids in New York changed their behavior, you can change yours, too. And small changes can bring big results. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, professor at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health,” which airs at noon Wednesdays on 91.1 FM, and noon Sundays on 91.9 FM. His column will appear twice a month in The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at askzorba@doctorzorba.com.


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