Sugary drinks are also known as sugar-sweetened beverages, or “soft” drinks. They include any beverage that contains added sugar or other sweeteners (high fructose Corn Syrup, sucrose, or fruit juice concentrates). This includes soda, pop and cola as well as cola, fruit punch, lemonade (and any other “ades”) as sweetened powdered beverages, sports drinks, and energy drinks.

These beverages, as a category are the largest source of calories or added sugar in the U.S. diet. Due to increased urbanization and beverage marketing, sugary drink consumption in other parts of the globe, especially developing countries, is on the rise.

It’s so sweet!

A teaspoon contains 4.2 grams sugar. Imagine taking 7-10 teaspoons of sugar and pouring it into a 12-ounce glass. Is that too sweet? It may surprise you to find out how much sugar is found in a typical can of soda. This is a great way to see how much sugar you have in your drink. We’ve created a guide that will help you determine how much sugar is in your drink. Popular beverages contain sugar and calories .

Energy drinks are similar to soft drinks but have more sugar than soda. They also contain enough caffeine to increase blood pressure and add-ons that can cause long-term adverse health effects. It is best to avoid energy drinks. This guide also includes sports drinks. While these drinks are intended to provide athletes with carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluids during intense workouts lasting over an hour, they are not recommended for anyone else.

You can also find 100% fruit juices, which are naturally high in sugar. Juice can be rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. However, juice should not be consumed as much as soft drinks.

Sugary drinks and your health

Sugary drinks are the worst ranking beverages for our health. They have so many calories and almost no nutrients. Sugary drinks make people feel less full than if they had consumed the same amount of calories from food. Research also shows that they don’t compensate for this high caloric intake by eating less food. A can of sugar-sweetened soda, or fruit punch, contains approximately 150 calories. Most of these calories are from added sugar. You could gain as much as 5 pounds if you drank just one of these sugary drinks per day and didn’t cut down on calories. Drinking sugar-laden beverages regularly can lead to weight gain and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic diseases. A higher intake of sugary drinks has been associated with a higher risk of premature deaths.

Supersizing sugary drinks and the obesity epidemic

There is enough scientific evidence to show that reducing sugar-sweetened beverages will decrease obesity and other obesity-related diseases.  Sugary drinks are a popular choice for millions of people around the globe, contributing to the obesity epidemic.

The problem is compounded by the fact that sugary drinks have seen their portion sizes rise dramatically in the past 40 year, leading to an increase in consumption among both children and adults.

  • Standard soft-drink bottles used to weigh 6.5 ounces before the 1950s. Soft-drink manufacturers introduced larger sizes in the 1950s, including the 12-ounce can that was widely available in 1960. In the early 1990s, plastic bottles of 20 ounces were the norm. Today contour-shaped plastic bottles come in larger sizes like 1-liter.
  • Sugary drinks accounted for about 4% of the daily calories consumed in the United States during 1970s; it had increased to about 9% by 2001.
  • In the US, children and youth consumed an average of 224 calories daily from sugary beverages between 1999-2004. This is close to 11% of their daily calorie intake. Between 1989 and 2008, sugary drinks accounted for 60% of the calories consumed by children aged 6-11 years. They now consume 130 to 209 calories each day. The percentage of children who consume them has risen from 79% to 91%. Sugary drinks (soda and energy, as well as sports drinks) were the most calorie-dense food for teens in 2005 (226 calories per daily), surpassing pizza (213 calories).
  • The U.S. consumes less sugary drinks over the past decade. Half of Americans drink sugary beverages on a daily basis. 1 in 4 Americans get at most 200 calories from sugary drinks, while 5% get at minimum 567 calories (equivalent to four cans soda).  These levels of intake exceed the dietary recommendation for no more than 10% daily calories from added sugar.
  • Due to increased urbanization and beverage marketing, sugary drink consumption is on the rise worldwide and in developing countries specifically.

Marketing sugary drinks: What is their role?

Verage companies spend billions of money marketing sugary drinks. However, they generally reject suggestions that their products or marketing tactics are responsible for the obesity epidemic.

  • Coca-Cola’s “anti-obesity” campaign was launched in 2013. It recognized that sweetened soda and other foods and beverages have contributed to the obesity epidemic. Coca-Cola promoted its wide range of calorie-free beverages, and encouraged people to be responsible for their drink choices and weight. The response to the advertisement was mixed. Experts called it misleading and inaccurate, while others criticized the statement about the health risks of soda.

To add confusion, studies funded directly by the beverage industry are four- to eight times more likely than independent-funded studies to find a favorable result for the industry.

Important to remember that sugary drink marketing is often directed at children and teens.

  • The UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity conducted a 2019 analysis and found that children aged 2-11 years saw four times more ads for certain drinks than they did for other beverages. Nearly 70 “children’s drinks” were also examined by researchers. They found that sugary drinks accounted for 62% of all children’s beverage sales in 2018, with fruit drinks accounting for $950 million (90% of sales) and flavored sweetened water accounting $146 millions.

Reducing sugary drinks

Sugary drinks are bad for our health. Water is the best option, but there are many healthier options.

This is especially true if you are a regular soda drinker. Sparkling water is a good choice if you prefer the carbonation. You can also try sparkling water that is naturally flavorful if the taste is not appealing to you. If you find the taste is still strong, add some juice, sliced citrus or fresh herbs. This can also be done with home-brewed teas, such as this sparkling iced with lemon, cucumber, mint.

Beyond the individual level, action

To reduce our sweet beverage consumption, concerted action will be required at all levels. This includes creative food scientists and marketers in beverages, consumers, families, schools, work places, state and federal governments, individual consumers, and individuals. This worthy cause is urgently needed. We need to work together towards reducing the burden and cost of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes in the U.S.A and worldwide. Fortunately, sugary beverages are becoming a prominent topic in national and international policy discussions.