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Consumption of Soda Begins to Decline but What Beverages Are Being Substituted?

Posted May 21 2012 12:00am

I have discussed the high consumption of sugary sodas in previous notes and the role that these beverages play in our obesity epidemic (see:  Federal Tax on Soda Pop Proposed: Can This Be Justified?State Taxes on Soda Pop Gain Momentum; Does the End Justify the Means? ). These notes have also raised questions about the wisdom of banning these beverages from school and/or taxing them to both force a reduction in consumption and also raise revenue. However, some of these changes seem to be having an effect as noted in a recent article indicating the soda consumption is starting to decline in the country (see: Soda Makers Scramble to Fill Void as Consumption Declines ):

Cold, bubbly, sweet soda, long the American Champagne, is becoming product non grata in more places than ever these days. Schools are removing sugary soft drinks from vending machines at a faster pace, and local governments from San Antonio to Boston are stepping up effort to take them out of public facilities as the nation’s concerns about obesity and its costs grow....Last year, the average American drank slightly under two sodas a day, a drop in per capita consumption of about 16 percent since the peak in 1998, according to Beverage Digest, a trade publication. What began as a slow decline accelerated in the middle of the last decade and now threatens some of the best-known brands in the business. Coke and Pepsi are relying more than ever on the “flat” drinks and bottled waters in their portfolios and on increases in the price of sodas, forcing die-hard drinkers to pay more to feed their sugar habits....“The question is, Are we seeing a modest, multiyear decline that will bottom out? Or are we seeing the beginning of a paradigm shift away from carbonated soft drinks?” said ...a longtime observer of the industry....Health advocates are cautiously optimistic about the decline. “It is really important because sugary soft drinks are the No. 1 source of calories in our diets,” said [the] director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We get more calories from sodas and sugary drinks than any other individual food — cake, cookies, pizza, anything.” But [some experts] are worried about what may be taking the place of carbonated soft drinks in the American diet. They note the increasing appetite for energy drinks, loaded with sugar as well as caffeine, and sports drinks, which are not carbonated but may have as much sugar as sodas. In spite of [the fact that] consumers [are reducing their soda consumption], beverage companies have been making more money on carbonated soft drinks by raising prices. That move allowed revenue from carbonated soft drinks to reach a record high last year of $75.2 billion in the United States, according to Beverage Digest.

For me, the most alarming part of this article is that the consumption of sports and energy drinks is starting to rise. Increased consumption of energy drinks, in particular, seems to be a trend among the young to dose themselves with more caffeine. I launched a Google search for the term "energy drink" and was concerned to see on the first search page only "above the line" commercial links for various products and only laudatory reviews of energy drinks in the rest of the page. Nothing on the first page was critical of the trend or products. This suggests that we are still in the early, honeymoon phase and that the company marketers are still dominant. At some point, we will hopefully see less favorable coverage with a discussion of the empty calories in these beverages as well as a discussion of the health downside of these high caffeine doses.

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