Sugary Drinks: How to Protect Your Health this Holiday

Written by
Stephanie Scarmo, Ph.D., M.P.H.
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It’s no secret that the holidays are my favorite time of year. We’ve packed up the turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving, and I am stringing lights, wrapping presents and settling in to watch cheerful holiday movies. While gatherings may look different this year, I know many of us will do our best to incorporate as many standard traditions into our celebrations as we can – including those tasty treats!

The good news is that more and more families are viewing sugary drinks as an occasional treat. I came across a recent study that found that the percentage of people who are heavy consumers of sugary drinks has declined significantly over time.

In fact, the percentage of children and adults who consumed at least 500 calories of sugary drinks per day (about 3.5 cans of regular soda) declined between 2003 and 2016. For children and teens, a decline in the percentage of heavy sugary drink consumers was seen across all ages, sexes, race/ethnicities and family income levels. A bright spot indeed!

These trends look at heavy consumption of sugary drinks overall, including regular soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and other sweetened drinks. However, the researchers noted that there is growing popularity of non-traditional sugary drinks that people may view as ”healthier” alternatives to regular soda, so it’s important to check the labels and note how many added sugars a product contains.

The most common place that heavy sugary drinkers buy these beverages, according to the study, are restaurants and stores. This is why policies such as taxes on sugary drinks, providing healthier default beverages in children’s restaurant meals and supporting purchases of healthy beverages in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help decrease consumption in these settings where people are commonly buying sugary drinks. Additionally, strong nutrition policies with an emphasis on healthy eating in early child care and schools may reduce heavy sugary drink consumption among young kids.

I know that holidays will look different this year, but I’m feeling hopeful that 2021 will continue to see these trends move in the right direction.

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