U.S. Soft Drink Consumption Soars

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Americans of all ages consume more soft drinks than in the late 1970s, sipping bigger, more frequent portions, according to researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).

The consequences could affect weight and, especially for children and youth, intake of calcium and vitamins.

The data comes from three food surveys of more than 73,000 Americans. Conducted between 1977 and 2001, the surveys included age groups from 2-year-old toddlers through senior citizens 60 or older.

Barry Popkin, PhD, nutrition professor and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center, reviewed the studies with UNC nutrition graduate student Samara Joy Nielsen, BS.

Soft Drink Statistics

Their findings include:

  • Daily calories from soft drinks and fruit drinks nearly tripled between 1977 and 2001, rising from 2.8 percent to 7 percent. This translates to a change from 50 calories to 144 calories in soft drinks, and to an increase in calories from fruit drinks from 20 calories to 45 calories.
  • Overall calories from these sweetened beverages were up 135 percent, with a 278 total calorie increase.
  • Young adults aged 19-39 drank the most soft drinks, boosting their consumption from about 4 percent to almost 10 percent.
  • Older Americans also drank more sodas. Those aged 40-59 increased soft drink intake from 2 percent to 5 percent. Among people 60 or older, consumption rose from nearly 1 percent to 3 percent.
  • Milk consumption dropped. Overall, Americans got 38 percent less of their daily calories from milk.
  • The biggest milk decrease occurred among young people aged 2-18, with milk falling from nearly 13 percent of daily calories in 1977 to a little more than 8 percent in 2001.

    The numbers might be low because some overweight people underreport how much they eat and drink, says Popkin.

    Dietary Impact

    The researchers voiced concern about the calcium and vitamins missed when children consume soft drinks instead of milk, as well as the extra calories from soft drinks.

    "The obesity epidemic may be aggravated by the increase in sweetened beverage intake," write Popkin and Nielsen.

    "Little research has focused on the beneficial impacts of reduced soft drink and fruit drink intake. This would seem to be one of the simpler ways to reduce obesity in the United States," write Popkin and Nielsen.

    The type of sweetener in soft drinks also drew attention.

    "Most soft drinks were made with sucrose (table sugar) in the 1970s, while in the 1990s and currently they are made with high-fructose corn syrup," write the researchers. High contents of fructose can increase the levels of triglycerides a blood fat seen in association with diabetes and to some extent heart disease.

    "As yet it is unclear how much of a role this has played in the obesity epidemic, but it may be a cause for concern."

    The study, funded by the National Dairy Council and the National Institutes of Health, appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

    SOURCES: Popkin, B. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2004. News release, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    By Miranda Hitti, WebMD Medical News
    Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
    © 2004, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved