With the holiday season—and all of the celebrations that go with it—in full swing, it seems fitting to take a look at a new study about the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. The news is not good.
The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that the number of adults consuming sugar-sweetened beverages has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Two-thirds of adults now consume sugar-sweetened beverages, with an average daily intake of almost 300 calories, or 15% of the 2,000 calories/day recommended for the typical diet.
Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was highest among young adults, and particularly among young African Americans followed by young Mexican Americans, and was highest in populations at highest risk of obesity and diabetes.
The study analyzed the 24-hour dietary recall data of more than 15,000 people collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for the period 1988 to 1994 and compared it to the survey data of more than 13,000 participants for NHANES for the period 1999 to 2004.
Sugar-sweetened beverages in this study included soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks and punches with added sugar, sweetened teas and other sweetened beverages. It does not include other caloric drinks such as 100% fruit juice, milk and alcohol. (Another study looking at the total calories consumed in beverages showed that the typical American consumed a staggering average of about 480 calories a day in 2002.)
The Clinical Nutrition study is a cross-sectional study (a study that looks at a population at a single point in time), whose purpose was to describe the national consumption trends, demographics, quantities and consumption behaviors of participants. While the study does not attempt to estimate sugary-drinks’ influence on the obesity epidemic, as cross- sectional studies aren’t useful to determine cause, other studies provide strong evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship between sugary drinks and obesity, the authors say.
Here are the main findings comparing the 1999-2004 population to the 1988-1994 group:
• Overall sugary-drinks consumption rose from 58% to 63% (a 5% increase).
• Average daily consumption increased from 22 ounces to 28 ounces.
• Average daily consumption increased from 239 calories/day to 294 calories/day.
• Average serving size rose from 11 ounces to 17 ounces.
There are a few interesting findings looking at consumption patterns that give me some hope:
• The largest share of sugary drinks was consumed at home. This should be useful information for anyone doing the shopping for the household—if you don’t bring these drinks home, they won’t be in your pantry.
• Overweight and obese people trying to lose weight consumed less than people without weight loss intention. It seems like weight watchers are starting to get the message, and are trying to reduce this most obvious source of empty calories.
The researchers, led by Sara N. Bleich, conclude:
“SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) consumption has increased dramatically in the past decade in the United States, in parallel with the rising prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Large epidemiologic studies provide strong evidence for the independent effect of SSBs on weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Efforts to encourage replacing SSBs with low-caloric or noncaloric alternatives may be an important strategy to reduce consumption of empty calories. Physicians and public health professionals are well positioned to identify and promote concrete behavioral targets aimed at decreasing adult SSB consumption, making awareness of these changes critical among that group. The workplace and home offer key areas of intervention for reducing the energy imbalance in young adults.”Although practically all guidelines for healthy eating include a recommendation to limit the amounts of added sugars, we still have a long way to go to decrease the most obvious and, in my opinion, least satisfying source of added sugar in the diet—sugary drinks.
New York governor David Paterson recently boldly proposed an 18% sales tax on soft drinks (fruit drinks with less than 70% fruit juice, non-diet soft drinks, sodas and other full-calorie sweetened beverages). The thought is that a price increase will discourage people, especially young ones, from excessive consumption of these beverages. It will also create much needed revenue. Some argue that the most effective measure in the fight against smoking was high taxation, and a tax on sugary drinks can help in this battle for public health, too.
So, as you celebrate this holiday season, encourage those around you to try an alternative to a sugary drink, and share a toast to a New Year of healthy living.
What do you think?