Sugar Drink Habit Is Widespread in U.S.

Survey Shows Teens and Young Adults Drink the Most Sugary Drinks

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 31, 2011 -- Half of the U.S. population age 2 or older indulges in sugary drinks on any given day, new research finds.

"Men drink more than women, and teens and young adults drink the most," says Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD. Ogden is an epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The American Heart Association recommends drinking no more than 450 calories a week of sugar-sweetened drinks. That's less than three 12-ounce colas. In 2010, U.S. dietary guidelines recommended limiting the intake of both foods and beverages with added sugars.

Overall, men and boys drink an average of 175 calories from sugary drinks a day. That is more than one can of cola. Women and girls drank about 94 calories a day. That is less than one cola a day.

Sugary drink intake in the U.S. has increased over the last 30 years. Sugared beverages have been linked with weight gain, obesity, poor diet, and, in adults, type 2 diabetes.

The CDC report, "Consumption of Sugar Drinks in the United States, 2005-2008," was issued today.

Sugary Drink Intake: The Numbers

Ogden looked at data from the 2005 to 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This survey asks a sample representative of the U.S. population to tell what they ate and drank during a 24-hour period. It includes those who drink sugary drinks and those who do not.

Sugary drinks as defined for the analysis included fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters. Diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, sweetened teas, and flavored milks were not classified as sugary drinks in the study.

Among the other findings:

  • Boys age 2 to 19 drink the most, with 70% drinking sugary drinks on any given day.
  • Adult women, overall, drank less, with 40% drinking sugary drinks on any given day.
  • Teen boys averaged 273 calories a day from sugary drinks; teen girls, 171. Men 20 to 39 averaged 252 calories a day. Women in that age range averaged 138 calories.
  • Five percent of the population drinks at least 567 calories from sugary drinks a day. That is more than four 12-ounce colas.

Low-income people take in more calories from sugary drinks as a percentage of daily calories than those with higher income. Non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American adults have a higher percentage of calories from sugary drinks than do white adults. One surprise, Ogden says, is that ''over half, 52%, of sugar drinks are consumed at home." She thought people would be more likely to drink them at restaurants.

She is not certain whether the intake of sugary drinks has declined since the 2010 guidelines were issued. There is new data from 2009 and 2010, she says, but it has not yet been evaluated.

Beverage Industry Reaction

Sugar-sweetened drinks ''are not driving health issues like obesity and diabetes," according to a statement issued in response to the report by Chris Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association, an industry group.

The group points to a July 2011 study published in the American Journal of ClinicalNutrition. It showed that Americans took in nearly a quarter less added sugars in 2008 compared to 1999. That decline, according to the study, was mostly the result of people drinking less soda.

The new report did not look at these trends, but only at a snapshot in time, according to Ogden. There is not an identical NCHS report of sugared beverage intake on a given day from 2001 to 2004.

The statement by the industry group also says: "Moreover, the total number of calories from beverages that our member companies have brought to market decreased by 21 percent from 1998 to 2008, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation data."

This is due, the group says, to bringing more no-calorie and low-calorie options to market.

"Balancing calories from all foods and beverages with those burned through physical activity and exercise is essential to maintaining a balanced, active and healthy lifestyle," the group says.

Campaign to Reduce Sugar Drink Intake

A new campaign to help lovers of sugar drinks reduce their habit is being launched today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

It is called "Life's Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks." It will include city public health departments and organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, says Jeff Cronin, a spokesman.

The goal, he says, is to decrease intake of soda and sugary drinks down to the American Heart Association recommendation of fewer than three cans per person per week.

Among the cities signing on, he says, are Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Some cities already have launched programs.


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SOURCES: Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, epidemiologist, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief: "Consumption of Sugar Drinks in the United States, 2005-2008."Jeff Cronin, Center for Science in the Public Interest.Chris Gindlesperger, spokesperson, American Beverage Association.Statement, American Beverage Association.Welsh, J. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online July 13, 2011. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.