Coffee Drinks Contribute to Obesity Epidemic

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As temperatures rise, you may consider cooling off with a blended coffee drink, whipped cream and all. 

But as we’ve noted in the past, Frappuccinos and flavored lattes are high in calories, largely due to the addition of whole milk or cream, flavored syrups and added sugar. 

At the extreme, a 24-oz. Starbucks Venti Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino with whipped cream contains 750 calories, or 38% of one’s daily caloric intake (based on a 2,000-calorie dietary allowance). A large Dunkin’ Donuts Vanilla Bean Coolatta (32 oz.) has 860 calories. 

Staking Out the Chains 

Researchers from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were alarmed by residents’ increased caloric intake from such beverages, which they associated with higher obesity rates. So, they staked out two New York City coffee chains (42 Starbucks, 73 Dunkin’ Donuts) to monitor consumers’ afternoon beverage orders and calculate average calorie content. 

The researchers clocked 1,127 beverage purchases at Starbucks and 1,830 at Dunkin’ Donuts. Their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventing Chronic Disease, were staggering: Roughly two-thirds of Starbucks purchases and one-fourth of Dunkin’ Donuts purchases were for high-calorie blended coffee beverages. 

Now, extrapolate these stats for the rest of the country: Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, has more than 11,000 retail stores in the United States, while Dunkin’ Donuts boasts 6,400 U.S. stores. And as the researchers note: “Both companies have promoted their products aggressively and serve millions of customers each day.” 

Key Stats 

  1. The average calorie content of beverages purchased at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts is similar to that of a standard 12-oz. can of sugar-sweetened soda.
  2. At both chains, ice-blended drinks had the highest calorie content (more than 300 calories, on average)—the equivalent of a scoop of high-fat ice cream.
  3. Almost 60% of customers who ordered a blended coffee beverage (all sizes) purchased more than 10% of their calories for the day in a single drink purchase. Without expending enough energy to compensate for their liquid treats, they could potentially gain 20 pounds a year, based on consumption of an extra 200 calories per day.

Promoting Better Alternatives

“Because [our] data were collected from 2 to 4 p.m.,” the researchers write, “many customers probably bought these high-calorie beverages as afternoon ‘pick-me-ups,’ in addition to their lunchtime meals.” 

Consumers who visit coffee chains at other times of day may order lower-calorie beverages, they admit. They also acknowledge that customers may not have consumed their entire beverages. 

Nonetheless, the researchers suspect consumers fail to consider calorie count when placing their orders. As such, “the industry should be encouraged to provide and promote less-caloric alternatives,” they write. 

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