July 29, 2011

Are Americans Dropping Sugary Drinks?

A new report has found that Americans downed about a quarter less added sugar in 2008 than they did nine years earlier.

The drop is 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," Dr. Jean Welsh, a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta and the lead author of the report, said in a press release.

She said a push by the government and private organizations to alert consumers to the potential health hazards of sugar might have played a role.

The researchers used national surveys of over 40,000 people's diets collected over a decade by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The team calculated the responses from how much added sugar people ate.  Sugar that is originally a part of food, like fructose in an apple, was not included.

There was about 3.5 ounces of added sugar in a typical person's daily diet between 1999 and 2000.  The number dropped to 2.7 ounces between 2007 and 2008.

The team said this corresponds with 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."

The study found that two-thirds of the decrease was due to people drinking fewer sweetened beverages.

The report said 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 could have 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.

Popkin said the survey might not tell the entire story.

He said fruit juice and fruit juice concentrate are also used to sweeten food and drinks.

"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 told Reuters.

David Katz, M.D. director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, told the Huffington Post that sugar is not inherently evil.  He said it is the amount of sugar consumed that causes the problems.

"An excess of sugar -- fructose or any other -- is harmful. That is what 'excess' means. The dose makes the poison," Katz told Huffington Post.

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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