National Consumers League

Pop on the decline


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
It’s hard to know whether there’s good news about American eating habits –actually, make that drinking habits, and not the alcoholic kind. It seems that consumption of sugary sodas – what I grew up calling “pop,” is on the downswing. A New York Times article featured one school in South Dakota that has banned sugary soft drinks entirely. Americans now drink under two sodas a day, a drop in per capita consumption of about 16 percent since its high in 1998. Apparently a slow decline has accelerated in recent years because of health concerns and the variety of non-fizzy alternatives. As a result, the big soft drink makers – Coke and Pepsi – are busy at the food labs looking for alternatives, including several new versions of sodas that have half or less than the usual amount of sugar. This decline in soda consumption ought to be good news, because soft drinks are the number one source of calories in the diets of Americans - more than cake, cookies, or pizza. And convenience stores and fast food outlets have huge cups – like “The Big Gulp” that encourage consumers to ingest hundreds of calories  in one sitting. Experts are warning that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030, rising from 36 percent today. But nutrition gurus like our colleague Margo Wootan at Center for Science in the Public Interest are worried that soda will be replaced by high-sugar sports drinks and energy drinks, which offer their own problems. My teenage son has been warned by his dentist to stop drinking Gatorade, for example, because the combination of high acid on the tooth enamel and sugar is a nightmare on the teeth. My cynical side believes that, despite the encouraging trends on reduced soda consumption, beverage makers will find ways to entice Americans to drink equally caloric or high sodium or high sugar and high sodium drinks. I hope I’m wrong and that the American love affair with empty calories in what I used to call “pop” is truly waning.