New study confirms American children and teens are consuming significantly less sugary drinks

Although daily consumption and caloric intake of sugar-sweetened beverages have declined substantially over the past decade, American youth – including SNAP participants -- still drink too many sugary drinks, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine


Ann Arbor, November 21, 2019

According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, the share of children and adolescents consuming sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and the calories they consume from SSBs declined significantly between 2003 and 2014.

This decline in consumption was found among children and adolescents in all groups studied, including those participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the US federally funded program that provides food assistance to more than 40 million low-income Americans each month—half of whom are children. However, the study demonstrated that even with the decline, current levels remain too high, with 61 percent of all children and 75.6 percent of SNAP recipients still consuming an SSB on a typical day.

“While the observed declines in children’s sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the past decade are promising, the less favorable trends among children in SNAP suggest the need for more targeted efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption,” explained lead investigator J. Wyatt Koma, Independent Researcher, Washington, DC, USA.

The investigators used nationally representative dietary data for 15,645 children and adolescents (aged 2 to 19 years) from the 2003 to 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). They classified children according to self-reported participation in the SNAP program and household income: 27.8 percent were SNAP participants; 15.3 percent were income-eligible but not SNAP participants; 29.7 percent had lower incomes that were ineligible for SNAP; and 27.2 percent had higher incomes that were ineligible for SNAP. The analysis determined the share of children in the various groups who consumed an SSB on a typical day as well as the per capita daily consumption of SSB calories from 2003-2014. SSBs were defined as any non-alcoholic drink with added sugar, including soda, fruit drinks and flavored milks, consumed on a given day.

This study yielded several significant findings, notably:

  • From 2003 to 2014, the share of children consuming an SSB on a typical day declined significantly across all SNAP participation groups, primarily driven by declines in soda consumption. Among children who were SNAP participants, the percentage drinking SSBs declined from 84.2 percent to 75.6 percent and per capita daily consumption of SSB calories declined from 267 to 182 calories.
  • In 2014, nearly one in four children who were income-eligible for the SNAP program consumed a fruit drink on any given day (SNAP participants: 24.8 percent; Income-eligible nonparticipants: 23.4 percent).
  • The share of SNAP participants consuming a sports/energy drink on any given day tripled from 2003 to 2014 (from 2.6 percent to 8.4 percent).

Although SNAP’s success in reducing hunger and food insecurity in the US is well documented, public health attention has more recently turned to the secondary goals of the SNAP program: improving diet quality and preventing obesity among participants.

Senior author Sara N. Bleich, PhD, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA, observed, “Current policy debates are considering whether the diet quality of SNAP participants can be improved by restricting which items can be purchased with SNAP benefits. Our analysis is important for these discussions.

“While our results confirm that efforts to decrease SSB consumption over the past decade have been successful, they also suggest that the continued surveillance of children’s SSB consumption by beverage type is important, given the consumption trends for sports/energy drinks and non-traditional SSBs like flavored milks. These trends could reduce or eliminate the past decades’ achievements limiting SSB consumption.”

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Notes for editors
The article is “Sugary Drink Consumption Among Children by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Status,” by J. Wyatt Koma, BS, Kelsey A. Vercammen, MSc, Marian P. Jarlenski, PhD, MPH, Johannah M. Frelier, MPH, and Sara N. Bleich, PhD (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2019.08.033). It will appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, volume 58, issue 1 (January 2020) published by Elsevier.

Full text of this article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Jillian B. Morgan at +1 734 936 1590 or ajpmmedia@elsevier.com. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Wyatt Koma at +1 412 508 7370 or komawyatt@gmail.com.

About the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine is the official journal of the American College of Preventive Medicine and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research. It publishes articles in the areas of prevention research, teaching, practice and policy. Original research is published on interventions aimed at the prevention of chronic and acute disease and the promotion of individual and community health. The journal features papers that address the primary and secondary prevention of important clinical, behavioral and public health issues such as injury and violence, infectious disease, women's health, smoking, sedentary behaviors and physical activity, nutrition, diabetes, obesity, and alcohol and drug abuse. Papers also address educational initiatives aimed at improving the ability of health professionals to provide effective clinical prevention and public health services. The journal also publishes official policy statements from the two co-sponsoring organizations, health services research pertinent to prevention and public health, review articles, media reviews, and editorials. www.ajpmonline.org

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. www.elsevier.com

Media contact
Jillian B. Morgan, MPH, Managing Editor
AJPM
+1 734 936 1590
ajpmmedia@elsevier.com