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Kids given the scoop on sugary drinks

Stanley Munoz, from left, Xavier Ruiz and Josue Perez examine the ingredients listed on a power drink bottle during an after-school sugary drinks workshop last week at Garfield Elementary in Chicago Heights. (Dennis Sullivan / Daily Southtown)

The approximately four dozen third- through eighth-grade students attending a recent after-school workshop in Chicago Heights clearly didn’t need an energy boost.

Yet the youngsters remained responsive and mostly attentive last week at Garfield Elementary School as Dr. Oswaldo Lopez offered common-sense strategies for reducing their consumption of sugary beverages.

Lopez, director of health literacy and business manager at Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center, addressed beverage sugar-content and serving size along with ways to reduce consumption, during a 30-minute adaptation of the Southland Health Care Forum’s adult-oriented workshop, "Rethink Your Drink."

Consuming too-much sugar increases body weight, which leads to other problems, Lopez said. (The American Heart Association, which funded the presentation, links sugared beverages and food to obesity and cardiovascular disease.)

"You’re gonna get obese," he said. "You’re gonna get bigger and you’re gonna get sick."

The first step to staying healthy is to know the serving size, he said, projecting on a screen an image of a bottle of soda once expected to serve three persons.

He told the students bottle sizes have increased since their parents were children. That, he said, has increased consumption because some consumers mistakenly think serving sizes also increased.

But size can be deceiving, he said, holding up a variety of bottled and canned drinks. The smallest can – a "power" drink – contained two servings, he noted.

"It’s important to know the portion, because sometimes that (beverage) is all you have to drink in the house," Lopez said.

"$50 if you open it," Lopez joked, as he handed out the containers for students to examine. They returned the containers with their seals intact.

Earlier, the students largely underestimated how much sugar a bottle of cola contained, versus a bottle of water.

Lopez didn’t shy away from the big picture during the after-school program, although some of the students giggled at the unfamiliar word "osteoporosis," a brittle bone condition linked to sugar intake.

The word "cancer," however, triggered instant awareness by most students, with one asking how sugar causes cancer.

"We don’t know," Lopez said, acknowledging researchers haven’t found a direct cause. But people with cancer often have a history of consuming a lot of sugar, he said.

"So, when you drink something or eat a lot of candy, you have to keep that in mind," he said.

Moderation is the key, he said, referring to a poster of a traffic light with red, yellow and green signal lenses relating to a particular beverage’s combination of serving size, sugar, salt, calories and nutrients.

"Red" drinks, which include energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened coffee and tea, are high in sugar, often have high salt and fat and little or no nutrients. "Yellow" drinks, like diet soda, diet iced tea and low-calorie sports drinks, have moderate amounts of sugar and salt, or artificial sweeteners and contain important nutrients. "Green" drinks, including water, seltzer water and low-fat milk, have no added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Lopez ended his presentation by acknowledging sugar is an important part of humans’ diet because it "gives us a lot of energy. My God, you guys have a lot of sugar (in you) right now."

Dennis Sullivan is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.