More than half of Americans drink too many sugary drinks and the problem is worst among minorities, the poor and the young
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Those statistics might not be startling, but they point to America's ongoing love affair with sugar – especially in quickly-consumed beverage form, according to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, covering the period from 2005 to 2008. Sugar drinks were defined as fruit drinks, soda, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened bottle waters.
The results didn't surprise Cheri Collier, manager of nutrition services for Metrohealth's Community Health Centers.
"We notice that sugary beverages have almost become a staple for low-income families," Collier said. "They will use a food stamp card to pay for them -- though their income is limited, it's one of the things they can purchase cheaply."
She said she's seen parents walking out with several cases of drinks like Hawaiian Punch for their families. Or they'll take advantage of an offer to get two liters of pop for 99 cents.
Collier has counseled patients, many of whom have chronic conditions such as diabetes; she talks to children who are obese and whose teeth have a lot of cavities. She shows them baggies that contain the amount of sugar that one can of pop contains, and they'll say, "I drink two or three of those a day!"
Collier adds, "These children are not eating properly, and they may be filling up on sweetened beverages. The lack of awareness is still there." Even for adults, she adds.
She too says that lots of her clients have switched to energy drinks, and "they think they are good for them." Or they'll drink chocolate-milk type beverages that are loaded with sugar -- a type of sugar-laden beverage that wasn't even included in the study.
Collier wasn't surprised either that the study showed that males consume more sugar drinks than females. "Women tend to see the value of drinking water, but men don't seem to drink water at all."
Coincidentally, the findings were released the same day that a number of cities and health groups announced a new campaign to reduce soda consumption.
That campaign, a joint effort of health departments in several major cities as well as the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, will try to decrease the average consumption of sugary drinks to roughly three cans a week per person by 2020.
About 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, or about 8 percent of the population. More than 191 million Americans, or about two-thirds, are overweight or obese. To put it another way, 34 percent of adults in U.S. who are age 20 years and over are obese; another 34 percent of adults age 20 years and over are overweight, but not obese.
Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian for University Hospitals Case Medical Center, said many people consume too many calories each day anyway, "so they don't have calories to spend on non-nutritive food. Plus liquid calories don't make them feel full – if you eat 500 calories that has more of an effect on satiety than drinking 500 calories."
She said she is not sure what can be done to close the education gap.
"What might seems common sense to one person, isn't to another – we need to close the gap between various socioeconomic statuses when it comes to this information," she said.
Other data from the findings: teens and young adults consume more sugar drinks than other age groups; and most of the sugary drinks consumed out of the home come from stores, not schools or restaurants.
The latter, say dietitians, is like because many districts in recent years have banned the sales of sugary drinks in school buildings. Also, sugary beverages are less expensive to buy in large bottles or cans at the store than they usually are even at fast-food restaurants.