Turning Point? Decline in Soda Consumption in US Isn't Uniform

Pam Harrison

November 14, 2017

Consumption of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in the United States is declining overall, but intake remains high among certain age and racial groups, according to the most recent national estimates for intake.

Results were published online November 14 in Obesity.

"On a given day, about half of adults and two-thirds of children consume at least one SSB," lead author Sara Bleich, PhD, professor of public-health policy, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues, observe.

But overall, they found that "beverage consumption declined for children and adults from 2003 to 2014, driven primarily by a decrease in the percentage of SSB drinkers" and lower per capita consumption, they add.

"This overall decline in both beverage and SSB consumption is consistent with previous literature, suggesting a recent 'turning point' toward lower energy intake in the US, potentially attributable to widespread discussion and media coverage," they observe.

But at the same time, adolescents and young adults still consume more sugar-sweetened beverages than recommended by the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Moreover, consumption of sodas is "persistently highest" among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic individuals — groups that are already at greater risk for obesity than other racial groups, the study authors add.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate that individuals restrict the amount of added sugar in their diet to less than 10% of daily calorie intake, and they recommend that people drink only beverages without added sugar.

Declines in Soda Consumption Documented Among Most Children

This latest analysis was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2014.

The sample consisted of 18,600 children between 2 and 19 years of age and 27,652 adults 20 years of age and older.

"Survey respondents reported all food and beverages consumed in a prior 24-hour period (midnight to midnight) and reported the type and quantity for each item," the authors note.

The calorie content of each of the reported items was then calculated.

There was a decline in the number of children drinking SSBs in any given day, which fell from 79.7% in 2003 to 60.7% in 2014 (< .001).

And from 2003 to 2014, the per capita consumption of SSBs declined by 92.3 calories (P < .001) for children.

"Among children, the prevalence of SSB consumption decreased significantly across all age categories (< .001)" for most race and ethnic groups, with the exception of non-Mexican Hispanic children, among whom no significant decline in SSB consumption was observed across the years surveyed, the researchers note.

Similarly, among adults, 61.5% consumed a sugary drink in a given day in 2003, which fell to 50% in 2014 (P < .001), and the per capita consumption of SSBs declined by 50.1 calories across the same period (P < .001).

But while white adults experienced declines in SSB consumption across almost all age groups, there were few other significant changes for other racial and ethnic groups.

SSB consumption remained highest among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic adolescents — groups at higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

"Understanding which groups are most likely to consume SSBs is critical for the development of effective approaches to reduce SSB consumption," explained Dr Bleich in a statement from her institution.

People in All Age Groups Drank More Water

Encouragingly, people in all age groups drank increasing amounts of water over the years surveyed.

"The increase in water consumption was a positive surprise," Dr Bleich said, "[and] suggests that messages about drinking noncalorie beverages are having an effect."

Higher consumption of milk (compared with SSBs) among younger children was another positive trend.

"Although our results suggested that SSB consumption is declining overall, they also highlighted the need for reducing disparities in SSB consumption by race and ethnicity," they reiterated.

Current efforts in a number of cities in the US suggest that a tax on SSBs can reduce consumption and that these taxes may have their greatest effect among low-income households where SSB consumption tends to be highest. Similarly, a soda tax in Mexico has been successful in reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

The authors had no relevant financial relationships.  

Obesity. Published online November 14, 2017. Article

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