Consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages – fruit drinks, sports drinks, sweetened teas, and energy drinks – may be on the decline, but sugary drinks are still the number one source of calories and added sugars in the American diet. A typical 12-ounce can of regular cola contains 9 ½ teaspoons of added sugars; a 20-ounce bottle contains 16 teaspoons of sugar.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommends only 12 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The American Heart Association recommends even less: that men limit themselves to nine teaspoons of added sugars per day, and that women limit themselves to six teaspoons per day. In either case, one sugary drink a day puts you at or over the recommended level.
Health risks of sugary drinks
Consumption of sugary drinks can lead to:
- Obesity. Caloric beverages contribute to weight gain more than solid foods because the body doesn’t compensate fully for beverage calories by reducing calorie intake from other foods. Adults who drink one sugary drink or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than non-drinkers, regardless of income or ethnicity.
- Diabetes. Persons consuming sugary drinks regularly—one to two cans a day or more—have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely consume such drinks. The risks are even greater for young adults.
- Tooth decay. Soda consumption is associated with nearly twice the risk of cavities in children and increases their likelihood in adults. Untreated cavities can lead to pain, infection, and tooth loss.
- Heart disease. Men who drink one can of a sugary drink per day have a 20 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack than men who rarely consume sugary drinks. A related study in women found a similar sugary drink–heart disease link.
Dominance through marketing
The largest sugary drink companies routinely spend more than $4 billion a year on marketing. Between promotion, placement, and high-profile partnerships, soda manufacturers pour a lot of money into making their products household names. And they're not above preying on vulnerable populations.
- Children and adolescents. Youth consumption of carbonated beverages increases by almost 10 percent with every 100 additional television ads viewed.
- Communities of color. African-American children and teens saw more than twice as many television ads for sugar drinks than their white peers in 2013. Hispanic Americans are 20 percent more likely to be obese than white Americans and 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes. Not coincidentally, the beverage industry disproportionately targets its marketing at low-income people and people of color.
- Low- and middle- income countries. While soft-drink sales have decreased in wealthier nations, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been making up for declining profits by investing heavily in low- and middle-income countries. And the expansion is coming at the expense of people’s lives, from Central America to South America, Southeast Asia to South Africa.