WEDNESDAY, Aug. 31, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Almost half of Americans get a substantial amount of their calories from sweetened drinks, a new report indicates.
Recent dietary guidelines have called for reducing the amount of sugar in one's diet, and for many, sugar-sweetened drinks are a major source of sugar. Excess sugar has been linked to obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes, experts say.
"The highest consumers of these beverages are teenagers and young adults," said report author Cynthia L. Ogden, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
"About half the population consumes sugar-sweetened drinks on any given day," she said. It doesn't mean that others don't drink these beverages, only that they don't drink them daily, Ogden noted.
In addition, men drink more sugar-sweetened drinks than women, she found.
The report, released Wednesday, details who is and isn't drinking the most sugar-sweetened drinks.
According to the findings, the amount of sugar-drink consumption varies widely, with about 25 percent of those who consume these sweetened products getting less than 200 calories a day from these drinks and about 5 percent consuming more than 567 calories from sugar drinks a day, Ogden said.
"That's more than four 12-ounce cans of cola," she explained.
The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 450 calories from sugar-sweetened beverages per week, Ogden pointed out.
In addition, there were racial/ethnic differences in who drank the most of these drinks, Ogden noted. Blacks consumed more sugar-sweetened drinks than Mexican Americans and both consumed more than whites, she said.
Income also played a role in who drank the most sugar-sweetened drinks. Generally, poor people drank more of these drinks than the more affluent, the report stated.
"It is important that people note the calories they eat," Ogden said.
In response, the American Beverage Association issued a statement that said: "Contrary to what may be implied by the introductory statement of this data brief that reaches back 30 years, sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving health issues like obesity and diabetes. In fact, recently published data from CDC researchers show that sugar-sweetened beverages play a declining role in the American diet while obesity is increasing.
"According to an analysis of federal government data presented to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Committee, all sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks, flavored waters, etc.) account for only 7 percent of the calories in the average American's diet. That means Americans get 93 percent of their calories from other foods and beverages.
"Moreover," the statement added, "the total number of calories from beverages that our member companies have brought to market decreased by 21 percent from 1998 to 2008, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation data. This is due in part to industry's innovation in bringing more no- and low-calorie beverage options to market. And according to Beverage Digest, sales of full-calorie soft drinks have declined by 12.5 percent from 1999 to 2010."
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, commented that "the beverage industry has long contested suggestions that sodas or, more generically, sugar-sweetened beverages, are an important factor in the nation's obesity and diabetes crisis. But the incontestable facts are these: epidemic obesity means epidemic energy imbalance, some combination of too many calories in, and too few calories out."
Sugar-sweetened drinks contribute to that surplus of calories in, while offering no off-setting nutritional benefit, Katz said. "Soda either directly adds calories we don't need, or if room is made for those calories, displaces calories from other sources -- almost any of which would be nutritionally preferable," he added.
Soda intake should not be a dietary mainstay, Katz stated. "But as this report indicates, it is. And the details here compound the indictment, indicating that soda consumption is greatest where it can least be tolerated -- among ethnic minorities already especially vulnerable to obesity and diabetes, and among young people," he said.
Another expert, Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., said that "the real question is, why are people bringing home cases of these beverages when they have absolutely no nutritive value."
Research suggests that even low to moderate consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to increased internal inflammation, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and more, she said.
"There is no reason to give a child a soda or sugar-sweetened drink. Teens drink these beverages because they taste good, give an energy boost and they feel cool drinking them. The powerful influence of marketing and the targeting of young people cannot be ignored here," Heller said.
"While we are responsible for what we choose to bring into our kitchens, the food companies need to step up to the plate and stop the heavy marketing of unhealthy foods like sodas, to kids," she added.
"For our part, giving kids water, low-fat milk, and 100 percent juice in limited quantities is a good place to start," she said. "If your family loves sugar-sweetened beverages then begin a slow switch to seltzer, flavored seltzers and un-presweetened teas. Keep pitchers of water in the refrigerator with slices of oranges, ginger or cucumbers for flavor," Heller advised.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more about healthful eating.