Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
Diet drink consumption has increased over the past decade, a trend that reinforces other research showing intake of calories from sugar in regular soda has decreased, government statistics out today show.
"The data suggest that diet drinks may have replaced sugar drinks during this time," says the study's lead author Tala Fakhouri, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new diet drink analysis shows that the change in diet drink consumption occurred for both women (up from 18% in 2000 to 21% in 2010) and men (up from 14% to 19% in the same period).
Still, only about 20% of people in the USA consume diet drinks on any given day with the majority (80%) not drinking them, the report finds. Diet drinks included calorie-free and low-calorie versions of soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and carbonated water. Diet drinks did not include unsweetened teas or coffees or 100% fruit juice.
Meanwhile, the consumption of sugar found in regular soda has dropped from roughly 150 calories a day in 2000 to 91 calories a day in 2008.
But when it comes to calories from all sugary drinks, including sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened bottled waters, males consume an average of 178 calories a day; females consume 103 calories, according to other government data.
Overall, about half of the population, ages 2 and older, consumes sugary drinks on any given day. Among boys 2 to 19, 70% consume these types of drinks while 40% of adult women consume them.
The statistics from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics are based on interviews with thousands of people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Food and beverage intake is based on in-person interviews about dietary habits.
Among the findings:
-- Diet drink consumption was similar for females and males in 2010, except among adolescents, ages 12 to 19, with 17% girls consuming them on a given day compared with only 9.5% of boys the same age.
-- 28% of white adults consume diet drinks compared with 10% of black adults and 14% of Hispanic adults.
"We know that Americans, mainly white Americans, are increasing significantly the consumption of low-calorie diet beverages," says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and one of the nation's top experts on beverage consumption. Research suggests that an increased intake of these diet beverages in replacement of sugary beverages reduces weight, he says.
Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, says, "Diet products are controversial because it is unclear whether they are safe and help people control weight.
"We do not recommend diet drinks, particularly for children, but one can make a case for them if they do in fact displace caloric beverages and do no harm."
Sugary drinks have been in the spotlight for years, and most recently because of news that they may magnify genetic risk of obesity, according to one study. Other research showed that heavy teens who cut soft drink consumption slow weight gain.
New York City is putting a 16-ounce cap on sweetened bottled drinks and fountain beverages sold at city restaurants, delis, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts. The beverage ban, which goes into effect March 12, applies to drinks that have more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. It does not include 100% juice drinks or beverages with more than 50% milk.