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Obesity Link to Fizzy Drinks

Think twice before you guzzle down that next can of cola. With more than 80 per cent of the UAE’s adolescent and young women regularly downing fizzy drinks, they run a higher risk of becoming obese and getting osteoporosis later in life.

These were the findings of a study conducted by Dubai Medical College students, titled ‘Health Effects of Soda Drinking in Adolescent Girls in the UAE’. The study was published in the international medical Journal of Critical Care.

The students tested about 300 adolescents in the 10-22 age group from Al Raya High School, Al Sorouq Private School, Dubai Modern Education School and Dubai Medical College for Girls. “Soda drinking was associated with higher risk of and decreasing levels of blood calcium and increasing urinary calcium excretion, which may lead to osteoporosis later in life,” they concluded.

Findings

The study found that 81.8 per cent of the students consumed fizzy drinks. More than half of the fizzy drinkers drank more than one can (330ml) a day.

Results showed more tooth decay among soda drinkers although there was no discrepancy in bone problems. However, a Harvard School of Public revealed that active teenage girls who drank cola beverages had a bone fracture risk almost five times higher than girls who did not.

Interestingly, the paper reveals the switch by soft drink makers from sucrose to high-fructose corn syrups as the primary sweetener in the early 1980s may be the cause of high risk dental complications.

Dangers

Previous studies have found that fizzy drinks, particularly colas, may contribute to obesity and cavities among young people. Scientists have suggested that phosphoric acid may be harmful as well as fructose, a sweetener believed to cause increased calcium loss. The World Health Organization has also recognized the role of fructose in the prevalence of obesity.

In the UAE some universities are leading by example when it comes to combating obesity and promoting among its students. Dubai Women’s College (DWC) has taken responsibility for its students’ health by integrating nutritional and physical education (PE) into the first year student curriculum. Suzanne Trease, Chair of the Department of Health and Physical Education said students are taught about health and well being right from the basics of food intake and energy levels.

“When the ladies first come they don’t have a background on the importance of exercise and no experience in health and physical education,” she said.

Trease said at first the concept can be quite a challenge for students because they do not understand the importance of healthy living. However, by the second semester it becomes part of their everyday life.

Healthy living is reinforced by the college administration and cafeteria that serves no fast foods or meals containing trans-fats, and bans soft drinks on campus.

Making changes

Other institutions have picked up on the importance of the youth’s growing health problems. Dr Nabeel Ebrahim, chancellor of Abu Dhabi University (ADU), said the university plans to introduce an academic programme next year in health sciences, which will include the study of obesity. In the meantime short courses and seminars as well as awareness campaigns organized by the on-campus clinic help educate students and staff on the matter.

The chancellor said ADU is launching the health sciences programme because “although we have not seen obesity as a major problem on campus it goes farther than the campus community”. He said it is a growing problem that won’t simply disappear. So preparation is a must.

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