In a quest reminiscent of Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film Super Size Me, a Los Angeles resident set out to raise awareness about sugar consumption by drinking 10 cans of Coca Cola daily for 30 days. The result is not pretty.
Otherwise relatively fit and healthy, 50 year old George Prior began his self-experiment in November 2014, carefully and publicly documenting day-to-day changes in his physical and emotional health status as he downed 10 Cokes each day.
On his website, 10 Cokes a Day, Prior notes that the only change he made to his lifestyle during those 30 days was the incorporation of 10 sodas into his daily diet. He expected to gain some weight, but wasn’t sure how much -- or how else his health might be affected.
Each day, Prior tested and recorded several health measures including his weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose levels.
In just 30 days, his weight jumped from 168 to 192 pounds -- a total weight gain of 23 pounds -- and his body fat increased by 65% (from 9% to 16%). He also reported increases in both his blood pressure and insulin resistance.
While few people drink 10 cans of soda every day, Prior argues that many Americans do consume the equivalent amount of added sugar, particularly in the form of other sugary beverages such as sports drinks, sweetened coffee beverages, and fruit juices.
The American Heart Association recommends that added sugars comprise no more than half a person’s daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, this means limiting added sugars to no more than 100 calories, or about 6 teaspoons, per day. Recommendations for men are slightly higher, at 150 calories or 9 teaspoons a day.
A single 12-ounce can of Coke contains 140 calories and 39 grams -- nearly 10 teaspoons -- of sugar. According to AHA guidelines, that’s about as much or slightly more added sugar than one should eat in a day.
But most Americans take in far more than one Coke’s worth of sugary calories each day.
Despite its recommendations, the AHA estimates that the average American consumes around 100 grams, or about 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, according to a report from the 2005-10 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) database. Average daily consumption is about 335 calories for men and 230 calories for women. Daily averages are higher among children, with boys weighing in at 362 calories and girls at 282 calories.
These numbers have huge implications for public health, perhaps most significantly among children. High sugar intake is a well-known contributor to numerous chronic conditions including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In one example, the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, now commonplace in our society, was found to be positively associated with an increase in body mass index in youth (Clabaugh & Neuberger. Iss Comp Ped Nurs. 2011; 34(3): 119-130).
Prior hopes that his experiment will draw attention to the dangers of excessive sugar consumption. Through personal photographs and blog posts, he invites his audience to track the bodily changes that occur on a high-sugar diet, openly displaying its impacts in ways that can't easily be captured through news stories or scientific studies.
At the end of his month-long journey, Prior then established a weight loss plan, the results of which he’s continued to chronicle online. Within 30 days of eliminating Coke from his diet, he successfully shed almost all of the weight he’d gained.