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Striking a Better Balance

Obesity in America is a serious public health challenge. What’s causing it? Science tells us obesity is influenced by many factors—ones we can’t control (e.g, genetics and age) and ones we can (e.g., exercise, diet, stress).

Given the complexity of this issue, it’s clear the solution won’t come from cookie-cutter laws and regulations that attempt to ban or tax specific food categories. What can help with the obesity factors within our control is education, not regulation. Bottom line: learning about balancing calories and activity is the only way we can empower people to make healthy decisions that are right for them.

Sugar and the American Diet

Although some critics have pinned the blame on sugar as the driver of obesity in America, the science and data on this topic says otherwise. As obesity rates have risen, added sugars have proven to be a relatively small part of the American diet. Consider these facts:

  • Calories from sugar-sweetened beverages—including soft drinks, juice drinks, flavored waters and other beverages—comprise only 6 percent of the calories in the average American diet according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s analysis of NHANES data for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. That means that 94 percent of the calories in the American diet come from other sources.
  • Sales of full-calorie soft drinks have declined 12.5 percent from 1999 to 2010.
  • U.S. children consumed 68 fewer calories per day from added sugar in soda in 2013, compared with their daily intake in 2000, according to a recent report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  • More low-calorie and smaller portion options are making a difference in our consumption habits, too. Forty-five percent of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased today have zero calories. And, overall, the average number of calories per beverage serving is down 23 percent since 1998.

Given the fact that calories and consumption of these added sugars is down and obesity is up, singling out soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages in the fight against obesity is simply an ineffective and misleading approach.

A New York Times article recently stated “simply focusing on sugar will do little to quell the rising epidemic of obesity.” Science supports this point-of-view - repeatedly demonstrating that when it comes to obesity, all calories count, and balancing consumption with exercise is key.

Diabetes and Heart Disease

Obesity is a primary risk factor for diabetes and heart disease, and those who strive for balance in calories consumed and calories burned can significantly reduce their chances of both. A CDC report reinforces the importance of this balance in mitigating this risk, as opposed to eliminating any one food or beverage from the diet.

The increasing number of beverage choices on the market have made it easier to balance calories. In fact, leading health organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics endorse the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners as a helpful tool in managing caloric intake.

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