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Heavy Consumption Of Sugary Beverages Down Sharply

Amid the COVID-19 resurgence and other decidedly negative health stories comes at least one snippet of good news: The consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) in the U.S. dropped sharply between 2003 and 2016. Which means public health initiatives in the early 2000s have worked…

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According to an abstract of a recent study by a consortium of researchers, published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consumption of SSBs dropped markedly across most ethnic/demographic categories, casting a few rays of very welcome sunshine on the obesity front.

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(Left) Fat kid switched to Sugar-Free Soda.
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What they did

Researchers data-mined results from 2003 to 2016 for a sample of more than 20,000 children and 30,000 adults from the National Health Examination and Nutrition survey (NHANES), which provided a nationally representative look at beverage consumption for adults and children. In addition to looking at changes in consumption over time by heavy SSB consumers overall, the investigators looked at trends by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and family income level, as well as purchase and consumption locations.

What they found

Among children, the percentage of heavy SSB consumers (defined for purposes of the study as those who drank 3.5 or more standard cans of SSBs a day) declined from 11 percent to 3 percent consistently across age group, sex, family income level, and most race/ethnicities.

For adults, the percentage of heavy SSB consumers declined from about 13 percent to 9 percent overall, but there was variation among different age, sex, and racial/ethnic groups. There was no significant change in the percentage of heavy SSB drinkers (no improvement) over the period among the 40-59-year old group and among non-Mexican Hispanic adults. The results showed that the percentage of heavy SSB drinkers has increased among people 60 years old and older, although the absolute percentage of heavy SSB consumers in this group was low.

Finally, the investigators looked at the most recent years of data (2015-2016) and found that the majority of SSB calories consumed by heavy SSB drinkers were from stores and about half of the SSB calories were consumed at home.

The takeaway

“Our study contributes important new evidence and insights to research on SSB consumption, and it tells a public health success story. The percentage of children and adults who are heavy sugary beverage drinkers has declined significantly, which is similar to trends in overall SSB consumption. Public health strategies to reduce excessive intake of sugary beverages appear to be working,” said Study Senior Investigator Dr. Sara N. Bleich, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

First Author Kelsey A. Vercammen, MSc, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health commented, “The insights gleaned from our study can help reduce consumption even further. Because the results zeroed in on several groups who showed no improvement or actually increased their intake, these can be used to better target interventions. Ongoing surveillance is also important to keeping these trends moving in the right direction.”

My take

Given that the obesity crisis is one of the most serious public health crises facing the world today, the results of the T.H. Chan study represent very good news, indeed. But – as is often the case – study spokespeople agree, we’re far from, ‘out of the woods’ on this issue. Now that we’ve found a promising route through those woods, let’s not waste any time moving forward, exploring to further.

~ Maggie J.

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