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If water is so great, why don’t we drink it?

Water and juice image by dshingadia on flickr  (CC license) We’re in the midst of the Year of Water here at Penn, but I can’t help but think there is a water disconnect – the water that we’re trying to save and protect is the same thing we’re rejecting as a drink.

I, like many Americans, drink water only if I’ve exhausted other options – if there are no carbonated soft drinks, sparkling water, or coffee around. I’m careful to choose diet drinks and avoid caffeine and sodium for health reasons, but for some reason, I’ve rejected the best option out there: water. And I’m not the only one. We're drinking more of our calories than ever before, and it's taking a toll on our waistlines and our overall health.

Doubling of Sugary Drink Consumption

A recent study in Diabetes Care noted that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which include the full spectrum of soft drinks (soda), fruit drinks, and energy and vitamin water drinks have become the largest source of added sugars in the U.S. diet. Between the late 1970s and 2006, the per capita consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages doubled, increasing from 64.4 to 141.7 calories a day. The researchers’ meta-analysis of recent studies on SSBs found that, in addition to weight gain, higher consumption of SSBs is associated with development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes; heavy sugary drink consumers had a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t frequently consume sugary drinks. 

And, if you’ve watched Jamie Oliver’s moving 18 minute TED presentation on obesity in America, you’ll recall that the 31 million children who receive school lunches 180 days a year can now opt for sugary chocolate or strawberry milk instead of unsweetened milk, and are ingesting enough sugar over five years to fill a wheelbarrow.


Liquid Calories Add Up

I’ve heard our researchers from the Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center explain this before (I take it to heart because the disease runs deep in my family), but if you drink a regular soft drink a day, or any sugar-sweetened beverage for that matter, it adds up.

Soft Drink Math:

  • An average 12-oz. soft drink contains 160 calories
  • One serving each day = 58,400 calories each year (160 x 365 days)
  • 3500 calories is equal to one pound of body weight
  • Therefore, 12-oz. of regular soft drink each day = 16 pounds a year  (58,400 / 3500)
    (Equation from the American Diabetes Association)

Beverage Serving Size: 8 fl oz

Leading Cola

Orange Juice

Leading Sports Drinks

Natural Spring Water







27.0 g

25.8 g

14.0 g



33 mg

2 mg

110 mg

2 mg

Beverage Ingredients

Carbonated water
High fructose corn syrup
Caramel color
Phosphoric acid
Natural flavors
Orange Juice
Citric Acid
Sodium Citrate
Monopotassium Phosphate
Natural Flavors
Yellow 5
Natural Spring Water
    Orange JuiceWater
    Citric Acid
    Sodium Citrate
    Monopotassium Phosphate
    Yellow 5Natural Flavors
    Natural Spring Wat

      If you’re interested, here are a few charts on the liquid calories we consume, care of the CDC.

      And we wonder why one third of Americans are obese or overweight!

      No Access to Water

      At a recent event for the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism (IDOM), we heard again that there are many people even in Philadelphia who don’t have access to clean drinking water. Some opt for the small barrels of flavored and sweetened “quarter waters,” because they are cheaper than bottled water. Access is a major issue – sweetened drinks are readily available in vending machines, corner stores, even school lunches, as water fountains and coolers are disappearing.

      Now What?

      So what do we do? Improve access to water? Decrease access to sugary drinks? There has been talk of a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks here in Philadelphia, and the FDA just received a petition calling for labels on sugary sodas warning consumers about the risk of obesity and diabetes. Mark Schutta, MD, director of the Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center noted in a recent interview with WHYY Radio, kids as young as 1 are drinking up to seven ounces of soda a day. If you ask me, we need to take responsibility for what we drink on an individual, family and corporate level.

      I've decided to start weaning myself off the caffeine free diet cola and sparkling water, and try to drink plain, unsweetened water more. Water once a day to start, then hopefully 2-3 times a day, and before I know it, I’ll hopefully be accustomed to drinking unsweetened water again!

      What do you do to stay hydrated and avoid the sugary drinks you see? How do you keep things in moderation?

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      This blog is written and produced by Penn Medicine’s Department of Communications. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive an e-mail notification when new content goes live!

      Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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