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Soda consumption hit a 30-year low in 2015

Soft drink makers like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are taking a hit as more Americans turn away from calorie-laden sodas.

According to new data compiled by Beverage-Digest, per capita consumption of soft drinks in 2015 hit its lowest level since 1985.

On the one hand, this suggests the public health campaigning around sugary drinks is working, leading Americans to drink less soda. These drinks are the top source of added sugar in the US diet, and have been a leading contributor to the obesity crisis and cause of tooth decay.

But there are signs that some Americans may also be switching to other, similarly sugary beverages when they cut back on soda.

For example, Beverage-Digest found that sales of "liquid refreshment beverages" — which include bottled water, as well as ready-to-drink coffee and tea, fruit drinks, and energy drinks and sports beverages — have been going up in the past few years. (In a recent article on juice, I found much the same, with juice sales staying relatively steady while energy and sports drinks rose.)

To be clear, Americans aren't yet downing these other sugary drinks in the same amounts as they were guzzling sodas. These drinks are typically more expensive, and their markets are still much smaller.

But many soda alternatives hide a lot of added sugar. A 12-ounce serving of cranberry juice cocktail has 12 teaspoons of sugar, for example, while the same serving in a sports drink holds about 5 teaspoons. That's comparable to a 12-ounce serving of cola, which has 10 teaspoons.

People tend to think fruit drinks and energy drinks are healthier options. A recent study in the journal Public Health Nutrition surveyed nearly 1,000 parents about their beliefs about sugary drinks. Ninety-six percent had given sugary drinks to their children in the month before the survey, and parents believed other sugary drinks — flavored waters, fruit drinks, and sports drinks — were better choices.

So tastes are shifting, but perhaps not away from added sugar as much as public health officials would like them to.

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