Not just bubbles and fizz
No summer is complete without a cool drink. A sip of cool water can help us beat the heat and quench our thirst. However, for children, water is sometimes not enough.
On a recent hot day, I observed a group of young children who came into a convenience store after playing football. The first thing they grabbed was a big bottle of carbonated soft drink from the fridge. One of them drank the soda in one gulp before paying for it.
In addition to snacks, soda is often blamed for childhood obesity as it contains a high amount of sugar. It’s also filled with substances that can pose serious threats to children’s health. Carbonic and phosphoric acid make bubbles and fizz, and artificial colouring and flavouring make the drink more enticing. Sugar and acids in soda can rot teeth.
Soda is not just terribly unhealthy, it also contains caffeine, which can be addictive and harmful.
A couple of years ago, there was a report of a 30-year-old New Zealander who died due to excessive soda-drinking. The lady drank cola throughout her waking hours, up to 10 litres each day. And the amount was twice the recommended safety limit of caffeine and more than 11 times the recommended sugar intake. Her family said that she had developed an addiction to soda and would get withdrawal symptoms if she did not drink it. Her teeth had been removed due to decay. Her excessive cola consumption gave rise to cardiac arrhythmia, a condition when the heart either beats too fast or too slow, and she died of cardiac arrest.
The news raised the question: What level of caffeine, added to food products, should be considered safe for kids?
A number of obese Thai children who maintain poor eating habits, especially with the over-consumption of snacks and soda, are facing health problems, including type 2 diabetes, cavities and weak bones. To tackle the alarming rate of childhood obesity, a health promotion foundation has pushed for a soda ban in schools. I strongly support its removal from preliminary schools as the ban would break the connection between children and soda, while helping create a healthier school environment.
The sale of soft drinks is common in schools. There are several vendors who want to sell soda to students in upcountry schools as they can make money from buying a big bottle of the drink and retailing to students at about 10 baht per cup. A majority of children often stop at vendors’ stalls to buy soda on their way home. Parents who aren’t aware of health problems caused by soda allow their children to indulge themselves on a regular basis.
Yet, despite all these attempts, some schools still promote the consumption of soft drinks as they allow soda to be distributed on the campuses.
To encourage children to lead a healthy lifestyle, we need to empower young people to make their own choices. I propose that schools educate students on the bad effects of soda. This can be done by using traffic light labels on different foods. Soda, for example, is given a red label, and this can give them an idea on how much they should enjoy. It would be a useful starting point for children learning about diet and nutrition. Children who are knowledgeable about diets are able to make a healthy choice on their own. This is because all foods have pros and cons. If we enjoy them in moderation, it is usually OK. When we exceed a healthy amount, it can be harmful.
It’s OK to drink soda occasionally.
I refresh myself with a can of it from time to time as I like its bubbles and fizz. But my concern is that when we are thirsty, we tend to guzzle soda and often go overboard with it.
A shift to unhealthy eating doesn’t happen overnight. The restriction of children’s access to soda in schools may partly help reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. However, creating a new social value of healthy eating in the family would be a big challenge for the government as Thai value is built on the perception that we can eat an unlimited amount of food in an agricultural country like ours. On top of that, we are not taught how poor eating habits can affect our life and the country in general.
Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a reporter for the Bangkok Post’s Life section.