Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Soft Drinks & The Blimping of America 

In two days I'll be in the air again, heading north and west from Ohio to get back east to Singapore. As always, it's been great to be "home," with the usual reunions, re-discoveries, surprises.

When I asked my teenage daughter Billie what social phenomena amazed her most in this trip to Ohio, she mentions two things: widespread obesity and general friendliness. Those "impress" me as well. In fact, it's always a pleasure to be in a place like my hometown where approaching a total stranger on a village sidewalk invokes a "hi there" or similar greeting.

Billie's other observation, that obesity seems common, is less comforting. While in a Lancaster, Ohio, doctor's office several weeks ago, I noted that nearly every other waiting patient, seven or eight adults and one child, was overweight, and half of those were obese. Two months ago I visited the university clinic in Singapore and did not see one other person who would qualify as obese. This observation becomes more acute when I remember how during my childhood, 40 years ago, obesity was a rarity, not the norm. In the time worn pictures of my elementary school classes, not one kid is obese.

It's easy to recognize one of the causes: the constant consumption of "soft" drinks.  I have seen shoppers in grocery stores pushing carts that are stacked high with a dozen or so cartons of Coke, Pepsi or other sweet drinks---and nothing else! And I think a visitor to the typical home in Ohio would be hard pressed to find a "second" refrigerator that is not filled with "drinks." Even in my own boyhood home, my mother often follows up greetings to guests with the question: "What would you like to drink? There's A&W Root Beer, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Diet Dr. Pepper." At a recent family reunion I observed that nearly every one of the two dozen visitors, myself included, was nursing a canned drink as we sat out on the backyard deck. 

A review of some articles on the Web regarding soft drink consumption in the US provides telling statistics. Americans consume 13.15 billion gallons of carbonated drinks a year. They spend 57 billion dollars a year on these drinks. And between 1977 and 2001, the consumption of soft drinks increased 135%. (For one article recounting a  study done on this topic, read here.)

This obsession with sweetened drinks simply doesn't exist in Asia, and the difference in the size of waistlines shows the real story.

For more about obesity in America, see this article.


Rohan Rajiv said...

Interesting indeed! Hope you had a nice trip! :)

Rohan Rajiv said...
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kltoworld said...

Hey Brad,

Right now I'm in the US and what I observed is the same as what your daughter mentioned.

I was in Las Vegas for 4 days and almost everywhere I look, I could see people who have some overweight issue.

Maybe its not just soft drinks? I'm not sure if the portions here are appropriate, but the type of food could be an issue. Back in Singapore, obesity had been identified as a problem; with easy access to fast-food and high calories plus simple sugars etc...its hard to avoid a social phenomena of obesity.

Oh and perhaps lack of exercise?

I do agree with soft drinks being the cause too.

P.S: Hope you had a great flight back to Singapore!

Guo Cheng said...

Good to see that you wrote a new post.

"Approaching a total stranger on a village sidewalk invokes a 'hi there' or similar greeting" It reminded my exchange semester. I miss this feeling.

Jude Too Soon Yee said...

Hey Brad, Soon Yee here.

I have always been intrigued by different cultures in different places and it is amazing how something so simple as obesity can reflect certain things like culture. I have never been to America before but like you said almost every house would be well stocked up with soft drinks. In my household, we do not usually have soft drinks unless it is during Chinese New Year. Rather, we would walk out to the convenience stall to buy drinks if there are customers or we would just make tea for them.

Anyway, I wish you a nice trip ahead and hope to meet up soon for a chat soon.


Elin said...
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Elin said...
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Elin said...

To be honest, I was actually struggling to choose suitable posts and contribute some constructive comments in order to follow the ‘culture’ of ES2007S. However, when I read this blog, I knew I am going to do it simply because I am a nutritionist/dietitian to be!

After reviewing some literature published online, I deduced that the increasing consumption of soft drinks and sweetened drinks is actually an underlying cause of other factors:
1. This unhealthy trend mirrors the overall trend in food away from home and increasing fast food restaurants.
2. The powerful advertisements are affecting preferences. It is more impactful when the number of potato coach increases over the years in USA.
Of course, there are also other strong theories explaining the factors that contributing to the obesity trend in US. I would like to give my little, tiny, minimal opinions here:
1. In fact, studies have showed that there is a marked relationship between poverty, race and obesity in USA.
"Just over 30 percent of African-Americans and nearly 40 percent of Latino children are overweight versus 29 percent of white children,"

It could be because energy-dense foods tend to be of lower cost than the ‘healthier’ foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Interestingly, it is significantly different from China. In fact, the obesity rate of people with higher income in urban area is higher than the poorer community in the rural area. For more information, please visit

2. The advanced transportation system can posses negative effect, too! The miles traveled with vehicle are inversely proportional to the physical activity level.

Ok, I better stop here and spare my ‘saliva’ for other posts…

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