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The soda industry is alive and well, study of American drinking habits shows

Close to a third of adults drink a beverage with added sugar each day

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

About 30 percent of US adults consume sugar-sweetened beverages like sugary soda and lemonade each day, according to CDC report published today. The people who are most likely to consume sugary drinks are younger adults, men, black people, and people with lower levels of education.

Approximately 43 percent of US young adults, ages 18 to 24, drink at least one beverage with added sugar daily, according to a 2013 survey. A third of men, 40 percent of non-Hispanic black people, and 42 percent of people who didn’t finish high school also quaff at least one sugary drink daily. In contrast, about a quarter of women and white adults have a sugar beverage daily. And college graduates don't tend to drink the stuff; only 16 percent of them regularly consume sugary drinks.

"Sugar drinks are rapidly becoming markers of social class."

Added sugar is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Education is a marker of class in America; people who are college-educated earn twice times as much per week as people who don’t have a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And children who grow up poor are generally more likely to be obese. That means that statistics like the ones in today’s report aren’t just about what people are drinking; they’re also about income and education inequality in the US — and the effects these forces have on people’s health. "As people learn about the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on health, sugar drinks are rapidly becoming markers of social class in America," says Marion Nestle, a food scientist at New York University and the author of the book Soda Politics.

Health authorities should discourage people from consuming sugary drinks, the authors of the study conclude. But that might be a tall order; in January, the US government released a new version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — and the recommendations didn’t include a guidance about sugar-sweetened drinks.

Instead, the closest thing Americans have to a guideline about drinks with added sugar is the following recommendation: less than 10 percent of calories consumed each day should come from added sugars. Given that Americans already find nutritional labels confusing, it’s unclear how much of an impact a general guideline like that will have.