By Dr. Mercola
According to the latest statistics,1 38 percent of American adults were obese in 2014 — an increase of 3 percent compared to 2012. A decade ago, in 2004, about 32 percent of adults fell in the obese category.
While many still consider obesity primarily a cosmetic issue, the health ramifications of obesity are indeed severe. The fact that 1 in 5 U.S. deaths is now related to obesity really drives home that point.
Over the years, researchers have investigated the notion that you can be overweight yet still be metabolically healthy; but while there are outliers, this simply does not hold true for the vast majority of people.
Why Obesity Will Never Be Healthy
Being slim is not necessarily proof of being healthy. Metabolic dysfunction easily can strike anyone not following an optimized diet. However, carrying excess weight virtually guarantees you'll suffer health problems.
This is why childhood obesity is such a grave concern, as obese children are likely to suffer the consequences much earlier in their adult life. Cancer is one major hazard. Worldwide, obesity is responsible for half a million cancers each year.
The insulin and leptin resistance that comes with obesity also results in chronic inflammation; a factor linked to a range of health problems, including but not limited to:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease and stroke
- Gallbladder disease
According to research2 published in 2013, there's no such thing as being healthy and obese.
The study, a systematic review and meta-analysis that included data from more than 61,000 people, found that obese individuals were more likely to die sooner or have heart-related problems than people of normal weight.
Moreover, this held true even if they were otherwise healthy, which led the researchers to conclude:
"Compared with metabolically healthy normal-weight individuals, obese persons are at increased risk for adverse long-term outcomes even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities, suggesting that there is no healthy pattern of increased weight."
Obesity Impairs Both Kidney and Liver Function
Obese people are nearly 7 times more likely to develop kidney problems compared to those of normal weight.3 Being overweight but not obese raises your risk of kidney disease by 3.5 times.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is another common health risk. Alcohol consumption is a leading cause of fatty liver, but in the case of NAFLD, it occurs in people who are overweight or obese, have high cholesterol or high triglycerides, and who consume little or no alcohol at all.
Studies show millions of children in the U.S. suffer from NAFLD, which prevents the liver from functioning properly. Among obese children and adolescents, NAFLD has been identified in 38 percent of American children and adolescents,4 which raises their risk of eventually needing a liver transplant.
Cases of pediatric NAFLD have even been reported in children as young as 3 years old! This simply could not happen were it not for a seriously improper diet right from the start.
In the absence of alcohol, the primary culprit is processed fructose, which your body processes in a way very similar to alcohol. And, while processed fructose is found in most processed foods, one of the primary sources is soda and other sugary beverages like fruit juices.
In pediatric cases, high-fructose infant formulas may also be at fault. By causing mitochondrial dysfunction, refined sugar and processed fructose also promote a wide array of other chronic diseases as well.
Obesity Linked to Memory Impairment and Dementia
Obesity has also been linked to an increased risk of memory problems, dementia, and Alzheimer's. In one recent study,5 healthy mice of normal weight outperformed overweight mice on spatial memory tests — tests that rely on a well-functioning hippocampus.
As reported by Scientific American,6 further investigation revealed that "four genes associated with memory formation were not expressed as strongly in the obese mice — suggesting that their obesity had somehow influenced how cells 'read' these genes."
According to co-author David Sweatt, Ph.D.: "One of the particularly exciting things is that this finding links two hot areas of neuroscience: epigenetic mechanisms and cognitive effects of obesity."
This study was the first to show that reduced expression of one gene in particular, called Sirtuin 1 (Sirt1), appears to be the central cause for obesity-induced memory impairment.
Interestingly, when obese mice were given supplemental resveratrol, known for its potent antioxidant effects, their memory function improved to the point of being indistinguishable from the healthy mice, believed to be due to resveratrol activation of the Sirt1 gene, thereby protecting memory function.
While it's unclear whether targeting Sirt1 in obese humans would result in the same improvements, this research adds support to other recent studies showing resveratrol may help slow the onset or progression of vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Soda — A Major Culprit in the Obesity Epidemic
Soda is a major culprit driving the obesity trend and associated health problems. Unfortunately, the soda industry has been very effective in its efforts to deceive you about this fact. Compared to studies without any financial conflicts of interest, research funded by the beverage and sugar industries is five times more likely to conclude there's "no link" between sugary beverages and weight gain.7
The industry has also spent large sums of money to convince you that soda can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, provided you exercise enough. The problem is, while you certainly burn more calories when you exercise, you cannot burn off thousands of excess calories each day. For example, just to offset a one soda per day habit, you have to walk one hour per day.
According to a 2015 meta-review8 published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, once you reach 18 percent of your daily calories from added sugar, there's a two-fold increase in metabolic harm that promotes pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Moreover, research suggests sugary beverages alone are to blame for about 183,000 deaths worldwide each year, including 133,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 heart disease deaths, and 6,000 cancer deaths. Fortunately, consumers across the Western world are becoming aware of these shady tactics and the connection between sugar and obesity. As a result soda sales have slowly but surely declined over the past decade.
Unfortunately, taking a page out of the tobacco industry's playbook, Big Soda has simply shifted its focus to low-to middle income countries to offset declining sales in developed nations.
This will mean but one thing — the same health problems now plaguing Western nations will steadily surge in areas where public health education and health care is already lacking, which will invariably lead to the same complications experienced in Western nations.
As Sales Drop, Soda Manufacturers Set Their Sights on Developing Nations
According to a Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) report titled "Carbonating The World,"9,10,11 U.S. consumption of sugary beverages decreased by 25 percent between 1998 and 2014, thanks to increased awareness about the dangers of sugar in general, and soda in particular. To offset declining sales, companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have shifted their focus to other countries such as Mexico and Africa.
Coca-Cola's projected investment in Mexico between 2010 and 2020 is $12.4 billion. During that same time frame, they're also investing $17 billion to further soda sales on the African continent.
In 2013, Mexico had the highest per capita consumption of soda in the world, with the average Mexican downing 135 liters of the sweet stuff each year. Between 1999 and 2006, calories from soda tripled in certain age groups, and childhood obesity and diabetes rates have seen a steady climb.
As noted in the report:
"The effects of intensive marketing of sugar drinks may best be seen in Mexico. That country is one of the biggest consumers of those drinks and has some of the highest rates of obesity in the world. The Mexican government is seeking to reverse that health crisis by imposing a modest excise tax on sugar drinks (and a sales tax on snack foods), with industry fighting back vigorously.
However, few other countries have adopted any measures to prevent or reduce excessive consumption of sugar drinks and the serious health and costly health-care consequences that are sure to follow."
Crazy as it may seem, Coca-Cola is even receiving subsidies to facilitate its reach into Africa and Asia.12 The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a unit of the World Bank, has given Coca-Cola bottlers in Africa and South Asia tens of millions of dollars in loans and direct investments to expand sales in foreign markets in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.
In 2013, Coca-Cola and IFC began a three-year, $100 million initiative to provide financing to female entrepreneurs in Eurasia and Africa.
Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H is the author of "Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)." In this fascinating exposé, she reveals just how pervasive the soda industry's influence really is. Nestle was the chairman of Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University for 15 years. She's a staunch advocate for public health and a leading voice in helping people understand these issues.
To sum up her recommendation: "The first thing you should do if you're trying to control your weight is stop drinking sugary beverages."
The soda industry is well aware of the connection between soda consumption and obesity and obesity-related diseases. Soda companies are by law required to inform the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about vulnerabilities, and for the last decade Coca-Cola has been telling the SEC that obesity is the No. 1 threat to soda industry profits.
As people get fatter, and wisen up to the fact that soda is at fault, sales go down. Soda companies are very aware of this, which is why they try to hide the truth to whatever extent possible.
Part of Nestle's book reveals how collaborations have been established with communities that have essentially been "paid off" to increase soda sales, and the same pattern can be seen overseas as well, with poverty-stricken women being offered loans to become soda distributors. In a place like Africa, soda is the absolute last thing anyone needs, let alone children. As noted in CSPI's report:
"With close to 250 independent bottling partners, Coca- Cola is distributed to remote villages in every African country — yet an estimated 30 to 50 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to essential medicines."
Making soda also requires a surprising amount of water, which is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Soda companies estimate it takes about 1.3 liters of water to manufacture one liter of soda. This does not include the amount of water needed to clean the plant, wash the bottles, and other sanitary tasks. Nor does it include the water used to grow the corn and sugar.
Independent groups that include these add-ons have come up with estimates of anywhere from 300 to 600 liters of water per liter of soda!
Lifestyle-Related Diseases on the Rise in Developing Nations
As soda and junk food manufacturers are improving their reach into some of the most impoverished areas on the globe, lifestyle related diseases have seen an upswing there too. As recently reported by Scientific American,13 while life expectancy has risen around the world, greater numbers of people live longer with chronic debilitating illnesses.
"In developed countries the trouble comes almost entirely from noncommunicable conditions such as heart and lung disease and back pain — ills typically associated with lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. In developing nations, however, the prevalence of these ailments is increasing rapidly, even as those countries continue to try to stamp out communicable diseases such as diarrhea and malaria that have plagued them for a long time."
According to a report14 by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the No.1 cause of global disease, among all age groups, is now related to behavioral factors, and non-communicable disease has overtaken communicable diseases as the No.1 cause of mortality.
CSPI Calls for Vigorous Action to Combat Intense Soda Marketing
In their report, CSPI calls for governments around the world and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prioritize nutrition and take action to restrict consumption of sugary beverages. To combat aggressive soda marketing, CSPI offers the following suggestions:
✓ Require warning labels on sugary beverage containers and in advertising. A recent study15 suggests this might be an effective way to change parents' shopping behavior for their kids.
✓ Tax sugary beverages, and use the revenue for health programs.
✓ Bar soda sales in schools
✓ Ban advertising in child-directed media
✓ Bar sugary drinks on children's restaurant menus
✓ Instruct health ministries to focus on improved nutrition, and restrict sugar content to about one-fourth of current levels
✓ Limit or ban sugar drinks on government property
✓ Improve product labeling (Ecuador and Chile are cited as two good examples; both require easy-to-read nutrition labels for foods high in added sugars)
Join the Growing Number of People Saying 'No' to Soda
If you struggle with weight or health issues, please give some serious thought to replacing soda and other sweet drinks, including fruit juices, with pure water. If you need some flavor, try adding a squirt of lime or lemon juice to still or sparkling water. Tea is another option. Just avoid adding sugar, and steer clear of bottled varieties as they're usually chockfull of added sugars.
If you find it difficult to quit, don't be discouraged. Many are actually addicted to soda. To break free, be sure to address the emotional component of your food cravings using tools such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). A version referred to as Turbo Tapping tends to be particularly useful for eliminating soda addiction in a short amount of time.
If you still have cravings after trying EFT or Turbo Tapping, you may need to make some changes to your diet. My free nutrition plan can help you do this in a step-by-step fashion.
Remember, sweetened beverages, whether sweetened with sugar, HFCS, naturally occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners like fr, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems, including diabetes and heart and liver disease, just to name a few. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain.