When young patients walk into Dr. Jamie Koufman’s office, one of the first things she asks is how much soda they consume. “People between the ages of 12 and 29 drink 160 gallons of soda and sugary beverages a year,” says Koufman, director of The Voice Institute of New York, and author of “Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure.” “The result of this over consumption is staggering rates of obesity, asthma related to acid build up and pre-cancer and cancerous conditions – which I see in many of my young patients.”

Obesity is currently an epidemic in America, and it is having a startling effect on children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2008 more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. According to the CDC website, “Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.

Even First Lady Michelle Obama has used her voice to spread awareness about this growing problem. Her “Let’s Move” campaign encourages schools, parents and communities to foster healthy choices when it comes to what we feed our kids. At the launch of the campaign in February 2010, our First Lady reminded the audience that the well-being of our country depends upon the well-being of our children. “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”

An American epidemic

As Dr. Koufman points out, a major component of the obesity epidemic is not just what people eat, but also what they drink. In the 1970s, the average sugar-sweetened beverage was 13.6 ounces, according to the “Let’s Move” website. Yet these days, people frequently drink 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages in one sitting!  Many learn these unhealthy habits as children or adolescents, and they stick with them for life.

“Most of us are addicted to sugar,” says Merrily Milmoe, a certified massage therapist and holistic health researcher at Healing Arts Studio in Mill Valley, California. “It is one of the toughest substances to kick.”

But kick it we can, and reversing the effects of soda addiction – from obesity to acid reflux – is possible for everyone. “Reflux is not a life sentence,” says Dr. Koufman. “By partaking in a more alkaline lifestyle, you can change the base of your whole body.”

Health hacks

Leading by example is a great way to get your own kids on a healthier path, as well as improve your own well-being.  Start at the very beginning—at the grocery store. Shop around the perimeter of the store, where they keep the fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats and eggs. Avoid the chips and sodas, and steer clear of anything with saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup. If those things are not in the house to begin with, you eliminate the opportunity for the mindless eating that many of us have become accustomed to. By eating in a more alkaline way, you can eliminate a lot of the diseases, such as acid reflux, that cause us to be less active and ultimately gain weight.

“Diet is the primary mode of alkalinity,” says Jeffrey Ulery, a chiropractor at Whole Body Health in Austin Texas. “And the primary benefit of alkalinity is that when you have an alkaline environment in your body, it is very hard for diseases to grow.”

You may also want to consider the benefits of drinking alkaline water. By balancing your body’s pH levels, you improve overall function and increase energy – which could help you log a little more time at the playground with your kids.