By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The average person can slurp one day’s recommended calorie count in just two or three super-sized drinks, a feat that doctors have linked to obesity and one that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to regulate with a ban.
But while experts debate the legality of restricting sugary soft drinks sales to 16-ounce cups or less, Northeast Mississippi residents mostly laughed or shrugged at the notion.
“I ain’t really worried about it,” said Levi Tutor, a Tupelo firefighter who drinks about two 21-ounce cups of Mountain Dew daily to stay hydrated and alert. “It won’t happen in Mississippi.”
Young and fit, Tutor doesn’t suffer some of the obvious health problems that can accompany excess soda consumption: weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, dental cavities and more, according to a litany of studies published online by the National Institutes of Health.
The average woman needs between 1,800 to 2,200 calories daily and the average man between 2,200 and 2,800 per day, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
A 52-ounce cup of Mountain Dew has 716 calories. Drink three, and you’ve consumed your daily recommended intake – without any of the nutrition.
“It’s empty calories,” said Alice Anne Lee, registered dietitian at North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Centers. “Typically you associate calorie intake with eating, but when you’re drinking a soda or a juice, you don’t realize it, but it most definitely leads to obesity.”
Lee said she always asks new clients about their beverage consumption habits, calling it an easy way to reduce calories without drastically changing lifestyles. One of her clients, Lee said, dropped 10 pounds in two months simply by eliminating regular soft drinks.
As far as diet beverages, she said, “the verdict is out on artificial sweeteners, but my rule is, if you’re not going to pour it in a plant to water it, don’t drink it.”
It’s no secret that Mississippians, on average, have ranked the least healthy and most obese in the nation for the past six consecutive years, according to annual reports by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
New York most recently ranked No. 36.
Restricting sugary drinks like soda could help improve Mississippi’s rankings, but Mantachie resident Janet Wesson said no thanks.
Wesson sipped Diet Coke from a 44-ounce plastic cup Tuesday and said that, while she worries about its health effects, it’s none of the government’s business.
“It’s probably inevitable, though,” Wesson said. “They’re already changing school menus. So I guess it’s just a matter of time.”
Patrick Verner hopes not. The manager of Dodge’s Chicken Store on West Main Street in Tupelo, Verner said 32-ounce cups are the most popular size among customers.
The store offers fountain drinks in cups ranging from 16- to 52-ounce capacities. The bigger the cup, the better the deal.
“A lot of the types of people who get big drinks just want to come in once,” Verner said, adding that the cup size has no bearing on the customer’s body size. “I’ve seen some of the skinniest women buy those big drinks.”
It’s all about moderation, said Gloria Lockett of Columbus, who enjoys 44-ounce cups of Dr Pepper yet maintains a healthy physique.
“Well,” she said, “it’s not like I drink three or four a day.”