Soda/Pop: Illinois Takes a Stance on Sugar Sweetened Beverages

“I can’t believe you bought pop!” said the department secretary, as she helped me lug food to a party to celebrate the birth of a colleague’s son. The celebratory food: chocolate cake, clementines, grapes, nuts, milk, water–and pop.

Usually I demonize pop. Once in residency, I gave a talk on obesity, and included a picture of a can of soda, modified to include a devil’s ears, pitchfork and forked tail.

soda devil drink


This pictorial representation comes instead from

Soda tops my list of modifiable behaviors to ask patients about when assessing their social history–“do you smoke cigarettes? drink alcohol? drink pop?”

I emphasize the “zero” when extolling the 5-2-1-0- path to health for kids. 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Two or less hours of television or video games each day. One hour of a movement a day.  And zero sugar sweetened beverages. No pop, juice, kool aid, gatorade, power drinks, sugar sweetened iced tea or sugar in the coffee. “We’re made to drink water when we’re thirsty,” I remind my patients. “Not water plus sugar.”

The extra sugar just adds up and makes us gain weight. Patients are surprised when I tell them how much. One can of pop a day equals 10-15 pounds of extra weight each year.

Let me repeat that.  Drinking one 12 ounce can of soda each day makes you gain 10-15 pounds each year.

When people come to me asking for diet pills, my first question is “how much sugar do you drink each day?” Water is my number one diet aid. Only water.

Drink only water.

The consequences of the weight gain from ingesting sugar with our water is enormous. Patients gain pounds. They develop diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint pain, depression. These diseases of lifestyle are estimated to cost 70% of our $2.7 trillion healthcare budget.

Drinking water saves lives and dollars.

Once the soda habit is in full force, it can be hard to change. Habits are always hard to change, and much pop is doubly addictive, with sugar and caffeine.

“Whatever you can do,” I tell my patients. “It takes three weeks to create a new habit. Every bit you cut down helps.”

Society can help us cut down.  Right now pop is super cheap, sweetened with subsidized corn turned to high-fructose corn syrup. Grocery stores make great profits with pop. But the consumers suffer the health consequences.

Happily, new legislation in Illinois proposes to add a one-cent per ounce tax to sugary beverages. I say happily, because these external forces may nudge individual behavior in new directions. With smoking, for example, every increase in taxes decreases the number of smokers.  The effect is significant enough that when Illinois needed more revenues, state legislators refused to increase the cigarette tax, for fear that more people would quit smoking altogether and Illinois would lose more taxes than it gained.

Soda/pop may be the next tobacco. For years, the health effects were not understood. When people became aware of the health problems that came from using the product, individual use of the product was chalked up to individual choice.  But who chooses to begin to smoke cigarettes, and why?  Who chooses to drink soda/pop, and why?

When I was in Senegal, I stayed with a family in a farming village.  The others in the family ate a millet gruel for breakfast. They bought me, the guest of honor, a french baguette and a can of Coke for breakfast.

Hospitality is Coke (brilliant marketing, Coca-Cola).

And to this day, when I want to provide hospitality-in-a-can, I buy pop.

Like today. But I didn’t buy just any soda.

“Of course you got the minis!” the department secretary teased me.

The mini-cans.  7.5 ounces, 90 calories.  7.5 cents worth of proposed taxes.  Creating “diet” soda by drinking less.



2 thoughts on “Soda/Pop: Illinois Takes a Stance on Sugar Sweetened Beverages

  1. I grew up drinking juice and soda daily and was painfully underweight. After I had my son and had gained so much weight I did the low carb thing and gave up juice and soda but drank diet soda which I had always hated. Now that I am 45 the only things I drink are water and coffee with no sweetener. I just went to see my new g.p, and after gaining 10 pounds over the past year am the fattest I have ever been in my life – with a fasting glucose of 110! He just kind of shrugged and said “Well, at your age and after a hysterectomy.. hormones change. Just watch your diet.”
    I am so frustrated because “watch your diet” apparently means so many different things depending on who you talk to or which book you read.
    I need to keep in mind I would have gained 25lbs instead of 10 if I was still drinking juice and soda.

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