What are sugary drinks?
Sugary drinks include soda, fruit-flavored drinks, flavored water, sports and energy drinks, and sweetened coffee and tea.
Why worry about sugary drinks?
2009-2010 data from US Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.
Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in our diet, representing almost half of all added sugars we consume. Added sugars are a major culprit in the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Availability of these drinks has increased dramatically. In the last 60 years the availability of regular carbonated soft drinks has tripled.
Sources: (1954): Beverages Table. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System Website. Updated February 1, 2015. Accessed September 9, 2015. (2015): Beverage Digest annual estimates; Caloric CSDs based on estimate that ~70% of CSDs are caloric and ~30% are non-caloric/diet.
Sugary drinks are uniquely harmful. They have little to no nutritional value but are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. Just one 20-oz. Coca-Cola has approximately 120 percent of the daily maximum recommended sugar under federal guidelines for a healthy diet. Yet we continue to drink too much, driven by the billions Big Soda lavishes on marketing, especially to young and poor people. And that spending pays off: Every day half of U.S. adults and two thirds of youth consume sugary drinks—adding up to approximately 50 gallons per person each year.
When sugar is delivered in a liquid form it bypasses the body’s defense against consuming too many calories: sugary drinks don’t make you feel full. These beverages offer little to no nutritional benefits, and the extra calories and sugar in these drinks outweigh any added vitamins. Sugary drinks have been found to displace healthier foods in the diet.
Soda is marketed as an habitual refreshment, rather than an occasional treat, particularly to children, youth, and communities of color. In 2013 alone, beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise sugary drinks—four times more than on 100% juice and water. One beverage company nearly tripled its advertising to children from 2010 to 2013. Black youth in 2013 saw more than twice as many television ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks as white youth.
- 1 in 5 believed sports drinks are “good, healthy drinks for children”
- One-third believed children need sports drinks for hydration.
- More than one quarter believed fruit-flavored drinks are somewhat/very healthy
- 77% report providing their children with fruit-flavored drinks
- 62% report providing their children with soda
- 51% report providing their children with sports drinks
Munsell CR, Harris JL, Sarda V, Schwartz MB. Parents' beliefs about the healthfulness of sugary drink options: opportunities to address misperceptions. Public Health Nutr. 2016;19(1):46-54.
Long MW, Gortmaker SL, Ward ZJ, Resch SC, Moodie ML, Sacks G, et al. Cost Effectiveness of a Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Excise Tax in the U.S. Am J Prev Med. 2015;49(1):112-23.
Consumption of sugary drinks varies by age, sex, race/ethnicity, income, and education. For example, adolescents, teenagers, and young adults consume more calories per day from these drinks than very young children or middle-aged or older adults. Throughout the lifespan, males consume more than females. While 64% of white teenagers drink at least one sugary drink every day, 74% of Black teens do so. Black and Hispanic teens consume more sports drinks and energy drinks compared to white teens. Children from low education households have almost 40% increased chances of consuming these drinks than children from higher education households. Young adults from low income households have almost 50% increased chances of consuming these drinks than higher income counterparts.
Park S, Blanck HM, Sherry B, Brener N, O'Toole T. Factors associated with low water intake among US high school students - National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study, 2010. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(9):1421-7.
Early eating patterns set the course for lifelong preferences and habits, so it’s alarming that every day nearly a third of children ages 12–23 months consume sugary drinks. Our children and youth are consuming too many sugary drinks.
Consumption of soda varies across the country, with higher consumption in the South. Now is the time to act to reduce exposure to sugary drinks. There is growing public recognition that they are not healthy, and there is growing support for policy makers to act.
Taxing sugary drinks
As communities seek to address rising rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, many are looking to sugary drink taxes. Communities around the country are considering these taxes as a way to raise money for community initiatives for health and wellbeing while calling attention to the health risks from sugary drinks.
A tax on sugary drinks can help:
- Raise revenue for important programs like healthier food in schools, initiatives to prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases, education campaigns about sugary drinks and healthy eating, and universal pre-k.
- Target investment of revenues in low-income communities disproportionately affected by health conditions caused by sugary drinks.
- Reduce the rates of, and curb rising costs from preventable chronic diseases while investing to prevent their occurrence.
- Increase awareness about the harmful effects of sugary drinks and shift sales to healthier products.
- Discourage consumption of sugary drinks by raising their prices.
- Encourage industry to produce and promote healthier beverage options.
Everyone has a right to know how sugary drinks affect health. Warning labels are a low-cost, effective, and simple way to get the word out. Beverage companies spend close to a billion dollars every year to convince us, and especially our children, to drink these beverages. But they don’t warn us of the risks.
Requiring beverage companies to put a simple statement on cans, bottles, and dispensers of sugary drinks and on menus and ads that promote them, will alert consumers to the risks of consuming sugary drinks, and may discourage parents from buying them for their kids. Cities and states across the country are considering policies to require these warning labels at both state and local levels.
Read more about warning labels.
For more ideas on how to reduce exposure to sugary drinks, see the recommendations from the National Sugar Sweetened Beverage Group for strategies to promote healthy beverage sales and consumption submitted to the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in July 2022 and go to Policies aimed at both food and drink products.