The percentage of children who are heavy consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)
has been declining.
Researchers examined data on more than 21,783 children from the National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey and found 10.9% were heavy drinkers of SSBs in 2003 compared
to 3.3% in 2016. Heavy consumption is defined as drinking at least 500 calories (the
equivalent of about 3.5 cans of soda) in a day.
Sugary drinks contribute to the prevalence of childhood obesity, diabetes and tooth
decay. The data showed declines in heavy SSB consumption for both males and females,
White, Black and Hispanic children and those from both high- and low-income families.
Consumption varied by age. In 2016, about 5.5% of 12- to 19-year-olds were heavy SSB
drinkers compared to 1.6% of children ages 6-11 years and 0.4% of children ages 2-5.
Soda was the most common of these drinks. About 64% of the beverages came from stores,
and 22% were from restaurants. Just under half were consumed at home.
“Our study contributes important new evidence and insights to research on SSB consumption,
and it tells a public health success story,” senior investigator Sara N. Bleich, Ph.D.,
said in a news release. “The percentage of children and adults who are heavy sugary
beverage drinkers has declined significantly. … Public health strategies to reduce
excessive intake of sugary beverages appear to be working.”
Some of those strategies include restaurants serving milk and 100% fruit juice to
children and policies to reduce sugary beverages in schools.
Still, previous research shows that as of 2014, 61% of children drank at least one
SSB on a typical day.
Authors said additional strategies to reduce consumption could include not allowing
sugary beverages to be purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,
but they said such restrictions may raise ethical concerns. They also suggested reducing
beverage portion sizes in restaurants.
In 2019, the AAP and American Heart Association released a policy (http://bit.ly/AAPSugar) suggesting excise taxes on sugary beverages, marketing restrictions and additional
education for families.