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Soda is the new cigarette

The dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco are well known.

Too much alcohol consumption leads to liver cancer and brain damage. Excessive cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. Hard, illicit drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, cause crippling addiction and sometimes irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.

Along with these known health hazards, an emerging, more hidden danger—disguised with bright, colorful labels and slick marketing campaigns—is now wreaking havoc across the world.

Rising soft drink consumption is fast becoming a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, according to experts. Containing anywhere between 120 and 180 calories per 12-ounce can, these beverages offer no nutritional value while also failing to make you feel full, allowing calories to pile up quickly.

What about diet soda, the alternative which promises all the taste and caffeine of soda with none of the calories? Medical experts say the artificial sweetener tricks the brain into thinking it is receiving sugar, but when the brain realizes it is receiving imitation sugar instead, it begins to intensely crave actual sugar. There is no medical link between diet soda consumption and weight loss. In fact, it could shave years off your life, according to Harvard University researchers.

In an attempt to curb the obesity epidemic, some local governments have levied “sugary drink” taxes, while others have restricted the size of fountain drink cups retailers can offer. In Philadelphia, where a 1.5 cent per ounce sugary beverage tax was enacted last year, researchers found residents were 40 percent less likely to drink soda than peers in other major cities. However, the study also discovered some were traveling to nearby suburbs to purchase untaxed soda.

Blanket soda taxes are not the answer to the obesity epidemic. Consumers would likely switch to non-healthy, non-taxed options, such as sugary fruit juice or alcoholic beverages, rather than make healthy lifestyle changes. And if the government begins to tax one unhealthy food product in an attempt to sway public health, where will the taxation end?

The most practical answer to the problem of rising soda consumption is recognizing how ingrained soda has become into our society and raising public awareness of just how damaging calories consumed through sugar-sweetened beverages can be.

With soda readily and inexpensively available at practically every restaurant, convenience and grocery store in America, it is easy for a one-can-a-day habit to snowball into greater consumption. A person who consumes three cans, or 36 ounces, of Coca-Cola daily adds an additional 420 calories per day to their diet. Over the course of a year, this equals out to 153,300 calories, or 43.8 pounds.

The habit can be especially difficult to kick on college campuses like Oklahoma Christian University, where soda in large quantities is incredibly easy to access. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, an unlimited supply of dozens of flavors is available in the cafeteria. If cravings hit late at night, Coca-Cola machines filled with 20-ounce bottles are available for purchase at every dormitory, apartment complex and major academic building on campus.

Future generations will view soft drink consumption similarly to how we now view cigarette smoking—an addictive, unhealthy habit which causes unnecessary health consequences. The sooner you reduce or eliminate your soda consumption, overweight or not, the sooner you will feel better and more motivated to make healthy eating choices.

If I can kick the can, anyone can do it. I was always an avid consumer of soda. Throughout elementary school, my drink of choice was Sprite. As I matured into middle school, I opted for either Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola.

From my freshman year of high school to New Year’s Eve 2018, I drank soda with pretty much every meal. Food just did not taste the same without the bubbly jolt provided by a can of Coke or Mountain Dew. If I went a meal without it, I suffered from headaches and intense sugar cravings.

As a New Year’s resolution, I decided to quit soda cold turkey. I instead satisfied my caffeine cravings with black coffee, while my itch for carbonation was quenched with sparkling water.

After nearly three months, the results have proven fantastic. Coupled with a healthier diet, I have dropped 15 pounds. I no longer experience a sugar crash solved only through a nap or more soda consumption in the afternoon. My skin has cleared up significantly.

Soda as a special occasion treat, like a slice of cake at a birthday party, will not do much harm. Soda at every meal, or even once per day, likely will. Now—not after graduation, after having children or receiving a stern warning from your physician—is the time to avoid daily consumption of foods and beverages we know to be harmful to our overall health.

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