Sodas, Obesity and Automobiles

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Where do you want to put your money? Do you want to spend it on gasoline, which is nearing $5 in some parts of the country, or on soda? And could cutting back on one help you maintain a healthy weight and also save money on the other? Some news stories are providing food for thought on this matter.


    The Wall Street Journal reported that Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group have decided to display their drinks’ calories on vending machines next year. This effort, which will start initially in Chicago and San Antonio in January and will be introduced in other cities later in 2013, is designed to head off anti-soda measures that some local governments are taking to battle obesity. I’ve already written a sharepost about  three recent studies that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine that linked sugary drinks such as sodas to obesity in adults, teenagers and children.

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    The companies also have announced that they will display messages that encourage consumers to opt for a low-calorie beverage. The Wall Street Journal also noted that many of the top sodas that are purchased are not diet. Coke leads the group with 17 percent followed by Diet Coke at 9.6 percent. The others are Pepsi-Cola at 9.2 percent, Mountain Dew at 6.7 percent, Dr. Pepper at 6.4 percent, Sprite at 5.7 percent, Diet Pepsi at 4.9 percent, Diet Mountain Dew at 2.0 percent, Fanta at 1.9 percent and Diet Dr. Pepper at 1.8 percent.


    In addition, the American Beverage Association (which represents the soda companies) is awarding a $5 million grant for a wellness competition between public-sector employees from Chicago and San Antonio that will measure a variety of health measures, including weight.

    Weight’s Impact on Fuel Efficiency

    Allstate is reporting that the extra weight that many Americans are carrying is leading to worse fuel consumption.  The company’s analysis found that the weight gain of drivers and passengers results in more than 1 billion gallons of wasted fuel each year.


    The study found that:

    • 39 million galls of fuel are used per year for every pound that is added above the average passenger weight.
    • The company noted that vehicles increasingly being required to meet higher fuel efficiency standards. For instance, light trucks will need to have 34.1 MPG in 2016 and 38.8 MPG in 2020 while cars will need to reach 37.8 MPG in 2016 and 44.7 MPG in 2020. Furthermore, new standards that have just been released that cars will need to reach 54.5 MPG by 2025. However, those higher rates could be offset by the extra pounds carried by drivers and their passengers, bringing the MPG into the high 30s for most drivers in 2025.

    In a story on, Matthew de Paula suggests that many people might question whether a heavier person could make that much difference in gas consumption. “But it’s plausible when you consider that fuel efficiency improves 2 percent for every 100 pounds shed from a vehicle, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” he noted.

  • So what can we take from all of this? Well, I think that having calories listed on vending machines is a good start (as is McDonald’s decision to list calories on their menu boards). Will it change behavior? Not necessarily, but it will help raise awareness which is the first step toward making a change. Hopefully, knowing what calories are in a product will cause consumers to ask the next question – are those calories empty or do they provide health benefits through having important vitamins and nutrients? And are those extra calories -- whether they're from food or beverages -- causing the person to gain extra weight? Eventually people will learn about the ramifications of their choices and hopefully, will start using their pocketbooks to purchase healthy options. And with those choices, people can more easily maintain a healthy weight. And yes, they may even improve their car's performance as they drop some body weight.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Allstate. (2012). How obese drivers hurt the effort to curb fuel consumption.

    De Paula, M. (2012). American obesity:  The biggest threat to fuel economy?

    Esterl, M. (2021). With soda on defensive, machines will list calories. The Wall Street Journal.

Published On: October 09, 2012