At the end of 2011, in the hubbub of news, a report came across my desk that I found downright depressing in the scheme of trying to figure out exactly what is in our food. The article was on BVO, a brominated chemical that is “patented as a flame retardent for plastics.” This chemical is banned in food throughout Europe and Japan, but has been added to sodas in North America for decades.
BVO is used as an emulsifier agent. Found in fruity sodas such as Mountain Dew and Fresca, it is used to keep the flavor from floating to the top of the drink and it’s what gives these drinks their cloudy look.
BVO landed in the news in part because of recent reports of patients (typically gamers, who have over-indulged on soda—Mountain Dew being a favorite— during long gaming stints) who have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, which are all symptoms of overexposure to bromine.
Although the FDA did set standards for BVO in food products in the 70s, the recent reports have incited a new call to examine more carefully the side effects of this chemical and upgrade the legislation associated with its use.
The question of what is in our drinks became a repeating theme in my mind over the course of last year. And this question has nothing to do with alcohol. Really, what I mean is: What is in the drinks that our children have access to? Soda, for instance, plays a large role in the increase in childhood obesity. With a 12 oz Mountain Dew containing 47 grams of sugar, or a 12 oz Coke, 39 grams. Most bottles of soda in the store are actually 20 oz, so you’re actually looking at an average of 69 grams of sugar. Since soda has no fat in it, and hardly any sodium, people think it can’t be all that bad. But basically, the entire calorie count in a soda is from sugar. My children’s dentist recently told me about a young man in his early 30s, whose teeth she had examined. He drank a gallon of soda a day, and she told him she would be lucky if she could save 10 of his teeth. He would have to quit drinking the soda for sure for her to know, and she wasn’t sure if he was more traumatized by losing his teeth or quitting soda. The soda slaps a double whammy of eroding the enamel on teeth and then the sugar goes in to work its number on erosion. Not to mention the caffeine count in soda. There is little information available about the effects of caffeine on kids under the age of 12.
Sodas are not the only villain. Sports drinks, too. The fruity flavors of sports/energy drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade, were both cited as containing BVO, and both sports and energy drinks are laden with sugar, which again can contribute to unhealthy weight gain when consumed in excess or outside the realm of rigorous sport. Sports drinks, which are designed to hydrate and restore electrolyte balances lost through sweating during exercise are not typically laden with caffeine, but energy drinks typically are. In a report released by the Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness earlier this year, examined the inappropriate use of these drinks by children and adolescents and stated that “energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” The report did not examine the appropriate use of sports drinks by young athletes involved in endurance or high-intensity sports. However, it did state that for the “average child engaged in routine physical activity, the use of sports drinks in place of water on the sports field or in the lunch room is generally unnecessary.”
Too often, I have seen young athletes at my kids’ swim meets down these drinks, when it is true, water or watered down juice would be a better substitute. As the report outlines, children and adolescents perceive the need to increase or boost energy levels. And thanks to savvy marketing, children and teens seem to think that soda—or sports and energy drinks—will do the trick. It’s frightening to think that sugar, caffeine, and BVO are becoming a staple, or even thought of as a solution, when in fact balanced nutrition is what is needed most.