The most insidious culprit - high fructose corn syrup - is found in many prepared and processed foods and beverages. Trotter explains that this substance is metabolized by the body in a completely different fashion than sugar - going immediately into fat production. According to Dr. Trotter, the average American consumes 26 pounds of high fructose corn syrup annually. Just 30 years ago, that number was zero.
Sodas prime culprit in childhood obesity
Terry Nieves, the program director for the Mendocino County Schools Network for a Healthy California, holds up an empty 20-ounce soda bottle. In it are 17 cubes of sugar.
This corroborates research by the UCLA Center of Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which states that there is a strong correlation between soda consumption and obesity.
"Based on this research, adults who drink one soda or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight, regardless of income or ethnicity," explains Nieves.
To combat what some health officials see as an epidemic rivaling tobacco addiction, Nieves and her staff are offering a "Rethink Your Drink" campaign throughout the county.
"The average teenager drinks 750 cans of soda per year," says Nieves. Public Health Officer Dr. Marvin Trotter states that at the current levels, one in three children will become diabetic by the age of 40. Sweetened beverages, according to Nieves, are fueling the problem.
"Over the past 30 years, Americans are consuming 278 calories more per day. There are 240 calories in the average bottle of soda," says Nieves. She has been providing "Sugar Savvy" trainings for educators and health professionals, trying to spread the word about the long-term dangers of drinking sweetened beverages and eating foods high in sugar.