Americans Know Sugary Drinks Are Bad For Them, Plan To Cut Back, Yale Study Shows

The American Relationship With Sugary Drinks: It's Complicated

Contrary to their image as the defiant, Big Gulp-gripping masses, a majority of Americans understand that sugary drinks such as soda, fruit drinks, coffee drinks and chocolate milk are contributing to obesity -- and they know what to do about it too.

When New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently proposed a ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces, many argued that the ban would help counter widespread ignorance about the effect of liquid sugar sources on obesity, diabetes and other metabolic conditions.

But a new study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Center for Science in the Public Interest and Interlex Communications found that the majority of Americans already knew that. A majority of the respondents to a survey designed by Rudd scientists believed that consumption of sugary drinks were not part of a healthy diet and that the drinks contributed to obesity. Additionally, a majority wanted to cut back on their own consumption of what public health and nutrition experts call "sugar-sweetened beverages" or SSBs for short. The majority of respondents additionally thought that two or fewer sugary beverages a week would be a healthy change.

While those responses reveal consumer interest in reducing sugar consumption, results from four focus group sessions revealed that many people who expressed an interest in drinking less sugar were unable to identify which drinks qualified as SSBs. Instead, when shown images of sweetened juices, sports drinks and other drinks with added sugar, many focus group members attributed keywords like "energy," "relaxed," "comfortable" and "friends" to the products and this prevented them from seeing the drinks as unhealthful. There was additionally a pervasive idea that drinking a sugary drink was quintessentially American -- another attractive quality.

"This report's findings are critical as they, for the first time, show the consumer's perspective and attitudes on 'sugary drink' marketing and messaging. It is critical for us to understand how these messages impact and resonate with the consumer in our efforts to educate them about healthier options," said Rudy Ruiz, a primary investigator and the President and CEO of Interlex Communications in a statement.

The online survey was designed by Rudd Center researchers and elicited a national response. The four focus group sessions were conducted in San Antonio, Tex. with an eye toward age, ethnic, language and socio-economic diversity. The research was presented today at the National Soda Summit in Washington D.C.

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