Americans Finally Found Something To Drink That's Better Than Soda

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Bottled water consumption is set to overtake soda in the U.S. this year, according to new data from the market research firm Euromonitor.

Products like carbonated, flavored, fortified and still water will surpass soft drinks including carbonated fruit juice and soda by 2016, and then continue increasing through 2020, reports Bloomberg:

The milestone is a sign that Americans are getting the message -- loud and clear -- that regularly drinking sweetened drinks like juice and soda contributes to rising rates of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other negative health outcomes. Market analysts at Euromonitor attribute rising bottled water sales -- especially flavored, carbonated water -- to its reputation as a healthy alternative to soda.

Soda, on the other hand, continues to be "demonized" for contributing to the U.S.'s obesity problem, which may explain its falling sales, they explained.

Water in all its forms is a much healthier choice than soda, which can pack as much as 12 and one-third teaspoons of sugar in a single 12-ounce serving. That's more than a day’s recommended serving of 12 teaspoons of added sugar. And while fruit juice has the word “fruit” in it, it has just as much sugar as a soda and commercial juices contain very little actual fruit.

That Americans are embracing fizzy water also represents a cultural shift in dining trends, Euromonitor argues, and mimics European consumption patterns.

"Whilst long a mainstay of European dining, historically carbonated bottled water struggled to gain acceptance in American homes and restaurants," said the London-based firm. "Aided by the stronger health and premiumization trends, carbonated water has now burst onto the scene, as affluent Americans have followed in the footsteps of their European counterparts."

Not everyone is cutting back on soda

Despite the good news, other research on sugar-sweetened beverage consumption shows that the U.S. has a lot farther to go when it comes to cutting back. While soda consumption may be down across the board, there's a marked difference between who’s cutting back and who continues to indulge.

A 2013 analysis of data from 1999 to 2008 found that poor children have higher odds of heavy consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages than rich children. The same goes for teens with parents that have little education: They have higher odds of heavy consumption and are more likely to ingest more calories from these drinks than teens with well-educated parents.

One way to shift the needle on soda consumption among the poor might be taxing sugary drinks. Preliminary data from Mexico, which started taxing soda in 2014 at a rate of about 10 percent, indicates that measure seems to be effective in increasing the price and decreasing consumption of soda, especially among the nation's poorest families. However, it’ll take a while for public health scientists to measure whether this tax actually helped cut down on obesity or diabetes. In the past, obesity experts have estimated that sugary drink taxes should be at least 20 percent to make a difference in obesity rates.

Of course, implementing a tax on soda is easier said than done. Local governments in the U.S. have had little success in persuading voters to pass or accept a soda tax, in part because of fierce industry opposition. So far, Berkeley, California is the only city in America that has successfully passed a tax on sugary drinks.

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