In the United States, the percentage of children and adults who have a “heavy intake of sugar-sweetened beverages” — defined as consuming at least 500 calories from these beverages or drinking the equivalent of 3.5 x 12-oz cans of soda each day — is dropping, researchers report.
From 2003-2004 to 2015-2016, heavy intake of sugar-sweetened beverages declined from 10.9% to 3.3% among children (aged 2-19) and from 12.7% to 9.1% among adults (aged 20 and older).
However, diving deeper reveals that while the rate of heavy intake of sugary drinks fell among children and younger adults (20- to 39-year-olds), it rose among adults aged 60 and older, and it remained unchanged among non-Mexican Hispanics and 40- to 59-year-olds.
These findings suggest that “attention must be paid to certain subgroups with high intake for whom trends are not decreasing, particularly 40- to 59-year-olds and non-Mexican Hispanic adults,” the investigators urge.
The study, by Kelsey A. Vercammen, a doctoral student at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues, was published online September 24 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Because the results zeroed in on several groups who showed no improvement or actually increased their intake, these [findings] can be used to better target interventions,” Vercammen said in a statement issued by the journal.
“Ongoing surveillance is also important to keeping these trends moving in the right direction,” she said.
Senior author Sara N. Bleich, PhD, also of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, added: “Our study contributes important new evidence and insights to research on [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption, and it tells a public health success story.”
Zeroing in on “Heavy” Consumption
Sugar-sweetened beverages “are a key public health concern,” Vercammen said in a podcast accompanying their publication, noting that these drinks are widely consumed in the United States by about 60% of children and 50% of adults on a typical day.
They represent one of the largest sources of added sugar in the diet, and excess consumption is tied to obesity, diabetes, and dental cavities.
To address this, several cities and countries have levied taxes on sugary drinks or passed laws requiring fast food restaurants to only offer healthy beverages with children’s meals.
In general, studies have reported “pretty promising declines” in consumption of these beverages over the past decade, said Vercammen, but it has not been known if this is also true for “heavy users.”
To investigate this, researchers examined 24-hour dietary recall data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 21,783 children and 32,355 adults over the 12-year period.
They analyzed the intake of four types of nondairy beverages with added sugar: soda, fruit drinks (excluding 100% fruit juice), sports/energy drinks, low-calorie (diet) drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages (such as sweetened coffees, teas, water, and nonalcoholic drinks).
The population was a diverse nationally representative sample (39% White, 24% Black, 20% Mexican American, 8% non-Mexican Hispanic, and 9% other), and roughly half