The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Caloric Intake on Rise

Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Caloric Intake on Rise

Health and Wellness

September 28, 2008

Children and teens derive 10 to 15% of their total daily calories from sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a new study conducted by the Schools of Public Health at Columbia, Harvard and John’s Hopkins Universities.
The study, which looked at two nationally representative population surveys conducted between 1998 and 2004, found that the average caloric intake from sugar-sweetened beverages in this group rose from 204 to 224 kcal/day – a 9.8% increase – over the six year period. The largest increase – 20% – occurred among individuals aged six to 11 years.
Columbia’s Dr. Y. Claire Wang says that the increase in availability of these beverages is one major cause for the increase. Sugar-sweetened beverages are available at home, in schools, and virtually everywhere where today’s children and adolescents live, learn, and play. Plus, she says, there has been a growth in food and beverage marketing practices expertly tailored to young consumers.
“Two other trends worth nothing,” says Wang, “are the increase in standard serving size and the number of new products on the market.”
Not surprisingly, the fastest growing sugar-sweetened beverage was the newer category of sports drinks. Consumption of those popular beverages tripled during the period in question. Boys consume more sugar-sweetened calories than girls; black and Mexican American teens consume more sugar-sweetened calories than white teens. Teens tend to consume more soft drinks; children consume more fruit punch.
Eighty-four percent of teens consume a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day. Within that group, the average number of calories consumed from sodas, fruit juices and sports drinks amounts to a whopping 356 kcal/day. Incredibly, to burn off those calories, the average teen would need to jog for an hour.
These findings are telling considering the growing obesity epidemic in children and adolescents, especially given the mounting evidence linking intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to excess weight gain. The USDA suggests that children and teens limit their consumption of sweetened beverages (to 4 to 6 ounces for children 1 to 6; 8 to 12 ounces for children 7 to 18), but U.S. youth consume more than double the recommended amount at a daily average of 22 ounces per day.
And sodas, which make up 55% of sugar-sweetened calories consumed in this study, aren’t the only beverages to blame. Consumption of 100% fruit juice, at 37%, is also on the rise. Fruit juices contain a similar number of calories to sodas and, like other sugar-sweetened beverages, have limited nutrients. In fact, the American Association of Pediatrics says that fruit juices offer no nutritional advantages over whole fruits. Yet, these drinks are often marketed as healthy.
Although recent legislative and regulatory actions have targeted beverages in schools in the hopes of alleviating these numbers, caloric intake among kids continues to rise. Fifty-five to 70% of sugar-sweetened calories consumed in this study were consumed at home, while only seven to 15% of calories were consumed at school. Additional calories are consumed at restaurants and stores.
Clearly, this calls into question the effectiveness of restricting sugar-sweetened calorie access at schools on reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. However, Wang says that schools are still a significant source of sugar-sweetened beverages for older children and teens, and that initiatives to restrict their availability are important.
“These initiatives can represent a shift in social norms and a momentum to involve wider participations from the community and policy makers,” she says. “But it is true that more needs to be done beyond schools.”
Wang says that, at home, parents can help the situation by limiting TV-watching (and exposure to ads). Retailers can help educate both parents and children on how to make better beverage choices.
With rising awareness of the issue, I am optimistic that there will be concerted efforts from parents, community, industries, and policy makers to find ways to halt this trend,” says Wang.