Getting sweet on some unsweetened drinks 

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Q: During this hot summer weather, I'm downing four or five sodas a day. That can't be good, can it? — Tom D., Scotch Plains, N.J.

A: We're glad you asked, because that's a big health risk. But you're not alone with this problem; North Americans drink around 44 gallons of soda a year. Would you believe that's the good news? That's 10 gallons a year less since the peak of 54 gallons a year in 1998. And at the same time, the average intake of water increased from 42 to 58 gallons annually. So bravo — you, too, are thinking about making smarter choices. And here's why that's important.

A new report says 25,000 people a year in the U.S. die from obesity-related diseases that result from drinking sweet beverages — and the number worldwide is a staggering 180,000. To put it another way, about one in every 100 deaths from obesity-related disease (diabetes, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and on and on) is caused by drinking sugary beverages.

To give you an idea of how it all adds up: One 12-ounce cola has about 150 calories; 44 gallons (your average annual intake) contains 5,362 ounces, or 67,025 calories! Cranberry juice packs a whopping 12 teaspoons of sugar in every 12-ounce glass (and 200 calories); orange juice and cola both have 10 teaspoons.

Your best choices:

• 50 percent of your daily liquid intake can be water.

• Around 30 percent could come from unsweetened tea or coffee. They not only keep weight down, but protect you from diabetes and dementia, and keep your heart healthy.

• Nonfat milk can — but doesn't have to — make up another 20 percent (about 16 ounces).

• If you want fruit juice, stick with a 4-ounce glass, and limit alcohol to two glasses per day for men and one for women. A new study points out that one-drink-a-day imbibers are thinner than those who don't drink at all or who drink more than that. Cheers!

Q: I'm upset by how many kids (including mine) and parents (including me) are overweight and out of shape. I'd like to get something started in our community to help fight this. Any suggestions about how to begin? — Marie S., New Haven, Conn.

A: It makes us so happy to get a question like this! Parents and communities have to get involved in changing the way kids and families spend their leisure time, plan their meals and think about their health. There's a new study that shows when schools are part of a community-based, anti-obesity program you get better results. The key is a combination of parental involvement, integrating healthful, portion-controlled nutrition into the school day, providing time for daily physical activity and having teachers deliver health and nutritional information to the kids.

You should bring up these ideas at the next PTA meeting or make an appointment to talk to the principal. Talk it up with other parents, too, and get them to say they'll devote time at school and home to making a program work.

Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic has several outreach programs to area schools. And there's a very good program in a couple of schools in your hometown; it comes from the Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Some basic goals to establish:

• Every kid eats five servings of fruits and veggies and has three sources of calcium, such as yogurt, leafy greens, reduced-fat milk, beans and almond butter, every day. Get kids to keep a food diary that they turn in each week for evaluation.

• Start a "no sweetened beverages" contest; see which classroom can avoid all sodas and sugar-added juices the longest! The prize: an extra hour of recess.

• Work to bring recess back into the school day and help kids get at least 60 minutes of flat-out physical activity daily, during recess, gym time or after school. It will improve attitude, weight, mood and grades!

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to

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