Black children and teens in the U.S. are almost twice as likely as their white peers to consume more than 500 calories a day of sugary beverages, according to a new study.
The results, which found a three-fold surge in the overall number of teens drinking sugar-spiked sports energy drinks, should inform policy, the authors said.
"Some groups may be more at risk for soda, others may be more at risk for fruit drinks, all of which ... have the same sugar base that contributes to obesity and disease," said study co-author Lisa Powell, of the University of Illinois at Chicago Health Policy Center.
Black children, the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also found, are more than twice as likely as whites on any given day to consume fruit drinks containing little actual fruit. Fruit juices, for example, range from 100 percent actual fruit juice to those with as little as 10 percent fruit juice and plenty of added sugars, Powell told Reuters Health.
Using surveys from 1999 to 2008 of what roughly 40,000 children, teens and adults drank during a single 24-hour period, the researchers also found an increase from 4 percent to 12 percent in the number of teens imbibing sports drinks.
The study also found that while drinking of at least 500 calories per day of sugar-sweetened beverages - considered "heavy consumption" - fell from 22 percent to 16 percent among teens, and from 29 percent to 20 percent among young adults, the rate rose from 4 percent to 5 percent among 2- to 11-year-olds.
Except for children, who are more likely to consume fruit drinks, soda is the most widely consumed sugared beverage across the age span. Black children, however, are half as likely as their white peers to choose soda.
And low-income children of all races drank almost twice as many sugary beverages as wealthier kids, the study found.
The study did not investigate the reasons why. Powell said that "cultural norms, what a particular household grew up doing," may be a factor, as well as cost.
Her research builds on prior studies showing that people are drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages overall. For example, the number of teens consuming sugary drinks dropped from 87 percent to 77 percent, Powell said.
And it comes on the heels of last year's passage of a landmark New York City ban on restaurant, concession and other venue sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.
The controversial law, designed to drive sugary drink consumption down further, might miss some nuances, Powell said.
"If you develop a policy that only looks at soda in schools or a possible tax on sodas, you're going to miss out," Powell continued. "If health promotion is our objective, it's important to understand the different patterns and how some people are substituting one drink for another across those patterns, and to target advertising and related efforts to those people." The other concern is a "troubling replacement effect," said David Dausey, public health department chair of the Mercyhurst College Institute of Public Health in Erie, Pennsylvania.
"We're cutting back on canned sodas in schools but the (beverage) industry says, 'Fine, we'll put in a fruit drink machine,' which, in many ways, is exchanging one evil for another," Dausey, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.
The American Beverage Association said the new study does not "paint the full picture." "Sugar-sweetened beverages are playing a small and declining role in the American diet" and are not the primary drivers of obesity, a spokesperson said by email.