Half of all Americans aged 2 and older consume sugary drinks on any given day and at least 25 percent of Americans drink the caloric equivalent of more than one can of soda a day, according to a new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Consumption of sugar drinks in the United States has increased over the past 30 years among both children and adults," wrote the report's authors, led by Cynthia Ogden of CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
Most people drink their sugary beverages -- defined as fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened bottled waters -- in their own home and purchase them in stores. About 36 percent of sugar drinks are consumed in restaurants and fast food establishments. Children drink only 2 percent of these beverages in schools or day care centers.
The data, gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2008, also show that males get about twice as many calories from sugary drinks as females, and 70 percent of boys between the ages of 2 and 19 drink sugary beverages on any given day.
African Americans are the biggest consumers of sugar drinks, and lower income Americans also drink more of these beverages than their wealthier counterparts.
Nutrition experts say while it is encouraging that about half of Americans may not be drinking sugary beverages on a daily basis, many people are still not making the right choices when they go out to stores or restaurants.
"In each of these places, there are sugar-free alternatives, so it's not as if people don't have a choice," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. There are definitely options that people need to exercise a bit more."
Ayoob also said many parents believe that giving children drinks such as fruit punch or powdered drink mixes is healthier than giving them soda.
"If they at least can give them a real fruit juice, it comes with some nutrients, but they should keep it to a glass or so a day," said Ayoob. "After that, I would rather see people eat the whole fruit and drink water."
Experts also expressed concern about the high percentage of children who partake in sugary drinks.
"The U.S. population is really having a problem with obesity, especially in children," said Dr. Jana Klauer, a N.Y.-based private practice physician specializing in metabolism and nutrition. "In children, these drinks can change their palate and lead to sugar-seeking behavior. There's a taste preference that develops, and the more you have sugary things, the more you want sugary things."
While the report does not look at how the consumption of sugar beverages affect a person's health, previous studies have suggested a link between certain health problems and these types of drinks.
"Sugar drinks have been linked to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity, and, in adults, type 2 diabetes," the authors wrote.
Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends an intake of fewer than the caloric equivalent of three 12-oz. cans of soda per week.
The American Beverage Association, a trade organization representing the beverage industry, disputed the CDC's data in a statement.
"Contrary to what may be implied by the introductory statement of this data brief that reaches back 30 years, sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving health issues like obesity and diabetes," the statement reads. "According to an analysis of federal government data presented to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Committee, all sugar-sweetened beverages ... account for only 7 percent of the calories in the average American's diet."