Sucked Into Soft Drinks — Caffeine Affects Student Health, Teeth and Wallets

Art Director
The Cardinal
University of Louisville

Consuming soft drinks is America’s other favorite pastime. In 2000, the average American consumed more than 53 gallons of soft drinks, according to the National Soft Drink Association. In 2004, soft drink giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola both earned over $20 billion in sales.

But for every gulp to quench your thirst, you’re adding miles you’ll have to run later on the treadmill, increasing your risk of health problems and dropping a buck and a

quarter into Pepsi’s or Coke’s company bank account.

The calories from all those sodas add up.

“People take in more calories than their body burns, which leads to weight gain,” said Nancy Kuppersmith, an instructor and nutritionist for U of L’s Family and Geriatric Medicine department. Soft drinks are considered liquid meals, and by drinking a soda during a meal, you’re essentially eating two meals — lunch and the soda. When you go to the gym, you probably work off the lunch but forget to burn off the extra calories from the soda.

“I drink the equivalent of two 2-liters of Diet Coke a day,” said U of L freshman Aaron Blankenship. But the Mechanical Engineering major said he works out at least three times a week to make up for it.

Eric Wright, an adjunct for the Health and Sport Sciences Department, teaches backpacking and instructs students not to drink soft drinks on hikes.

“Bring something that has electrolytes — energy drinks like Gatorade, PowerAde, and water,” he said.

Soft drinks are not only poor meal substitutes, but are damaging to your teeth.

“Colas are acidic and not good for you or your teeth,” said Dr. Robert H. Staat, professor of Microbiology at the School of Dentistry.

A few of the addictive acids in soft drinks include acetic, fumaric, gluconic and phosphoric acids, all of them synthetically produced.

The bacteria in your mouth combined with a soft drink’s acids attack the teeth’s enamel. Each attack lasts for 20 minutes and has the potential to create cavities.

“Frequency causes the decay,” said Nick Ising, a junior Dentistry student. “Cokes are okay, but in moderation.” Ising said to drink soda faster in order to decrease attacks on the enamels. This is great advice to avoid the dentist’s chair, which can be expensive for young adults.

Young adults (18-24 years old) are the least insured age group according to the National Coalition on Health Care. In 2002, 78.5 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds paid for health services out-of-pocket, with costs ranging from $1-$124.

What’s also expensive is the actual cost of soft drinks. The U of L vending machines have bumped up 20-ounce soft drinks to $1.25 from a buck. Kroger and other stores charge around $1.29. Purchasing six soft drinks a week could cost roughly $7.25 and monthly around $21.75. For this amount, students could pay back their unsubsidized loans, late and overdraft fees, fill their cars up with gas or start a rainy day fund.

But if you must have your Coke and drink it too, substitute it with artificial sweeteners.

“There’s hardly an aftertaste,” Staat said. “Just reduce sugar in your diet.”

Replace regular sodas with water, Crystal Light, RC Cola, diet drinks, or stop drinking them altogether to get rid of caffeine dependence.

Sophomore Bridget Walker said she used to drink three 20-ounce sodas a day, but reduced it to around one a month.

“My stomach gets real upset from drinking too many,” she said.

Walker’s symptom is commonly diagnosed as gastrointestinal distress. It’s an inflammation of the stomach due to increasing acid levels, which can lead to gastric erosions. The treatment for GI sufferers: drink one soda and the pain goes away.

Soft drink dependence is a tough habit to kick, but in the long run, you’ll be able to run without stomach pains, face the dentist without fear and save money, all just by passing up the Coke machine.

“[Soft drinks] don’t give your body satisfaction,” Kuppersmith said, “so you have to give it something that will.”