Americans cut back on sugar-sweetened soda: survey

NEW YORK Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:38pm EDT

A shopper walks by the sodas aisle at a grocery store in Los Angeles April 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

A shopper walks by the sodas aisle at a grocery store in Los Angeles April 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Americans downed nearly a quarter less added sugar in 2008 than they did nine years earlier, a new report concludes.

The drop is largely due to a decrease in the amount of sugar-sweetened soda that people drank.

"We were surprised to see that there was a substantial reduction over the years," said Dr. Jean Welsh, a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta and the lead author of the report.

Although the reasons for the dip are still murky, she said a big push by the government and private organizations to alert consumers to the potential health hazards of sugar -- obesity in particular -- might have played a role.

Welsh and her colleagues used national surveys of more than 40,000 people's diets collected over a decade by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers calculated from the responses how much added sugar -- that is, extra sugar used to sweeten food -- people ate. Sugar that is originally a part of a food, such as the fructose in an apple, was not included.

Between 1999 and 2000, there was about 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of added sugar in a typical person's daily diet. By 2007 to 2008, the number was 77 grams, or 2.7 ounces.

That corresponds to a drop from 18 percent to 14.6 percent of people's total calorie intake.

"That's good to see, but it's still too high," Welsh told Reuters Health. "All our discretionary calories shouldn't exceed five to 15 percent of our calories, and we're consuming that much in just added sugar."

Two-thirds of the decrease was due to people chugging fewer sweetened beverages, according to the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The report notes that in the early 2000s, schools began to limit sugar-sweetened drinks for students, and low-carb diets for adults became more popular.

Dr. Barry Popkin, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the recession that began in late 2007 also sparked a change in the food people bought.

"They all shifted toward cheaper goods, and shifted down the calories they bought," he told Reuters Health.

Still, Popkin, who was not involved in the new work, added that the survey might not tell the entire sugar story.

Fruit juice and fruit juice concentrate are also used to sweeten foods and drinks, he said, but are not included in survey data on added sugar.

"Fruit juice concentrate is just another sugar. It's deceiving to think this is a long term trend, and to interpret while ignoring fruit juice concentrate and fruit juice," Popkin said.

Energy drinks were the one source of added sugar in people's diets that increased from 1999 to 2008, although they still only make up a small part of the total calories.

The trend for energy drinks in the future "will be interesting to watch," said Welsh.

SOURCE: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August, 2011.

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Comments (2)
The majority of the non-diet sodas in the United States are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Sugar is not the ingredient in these sodas. In fact, less than five percent of total sugar deliveries to the United States food industry go to beverage companies.

HFCS is not found in nature but is a product that requires the manipulation of cornstarch for its manufacture. It is inaccurate and misleading to claim sugar is the sweetener contained in most American sodas.

Below are some facts that might help to clarify the differences between sugar and HFCS:

Americans consumed more than 5 million tons of HFCS in drinks in 2008, according to the USDA-Economic Research Service. That’s nearly 15 times more HFCS than sugar used in beverages.

Less than 5 percent of all U.S. sugar deliveries go to the beverage industry.

The United States has not used sugar to sweeten most of its soft drinks since Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office.

HFCS was invented in 1957, mass produced in the 1970s, and has had the majority of the beverage market ever since.

Sugar still sweetens beverages in Europe, Mexico, and most areas outside of the United States.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the term “sugar” only applies to sucrose when listed as an ingredient. HFCS is a different ingredient.

Until more manufacturers choose to use all-natural sugar, which has been used safely for more than 2,000 years, it is more accurate to use the term “HFCS-sweetened beverages” when reporting about beverages consumed in the United States. Your help in correcting this common mistake is appreciated.

Jul 28, 2011 10:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
CarolynFK wrote:
I would agree that the widespread use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)in all kinds of foods has coincided with the obesity epidemic. From 1974 to 1983 the use of HFCS increased from 3 to 43 pounds per head globally according to the FAO Commodity Bulletin Series and reported in Physiology Reviews in 2010. Many individuals are particularly sensitive to fructose upregulating “thrifty genes” and resulting in obesity and its attendant disorders including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many cancers. It would be good to have a wider recognition of this pernicious ingredient and remove it from so many foods marketed to vulnerable populations especially the very young.
Carolyn Katzin, Certified Nutrition Specialist

Jul 28, 2011 8:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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