The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) has finally come out against “sugary drinks,” or sodas like Coco-Cola and Pepsi.

The USDA has previously warned about sugary drinks, but for the first time, it’s really emphasizing it.

The agency just chucked its ‘food pyramid’ and replaced it with a new ‘MyPlate’ icon.  The icon is accompanied by just seven bullet points, one of which is “drink water instead of sugary drinks.”

Prominent nutritionists and scientists have long warned that sugary drinks are making Americans fat and giving them diseases like diabetes.

Perhaps the strongest sugar critic is Robert Lustig, whose Sugar: The Bitter Truth lecture has gone viral.  He claims that sugar is ‘worse’ than other types of calories – in fact, it’s a toxin like the ethanol found in alcoholic beverages.

He said excessive sugar disturbs the body’s ability to regulate weight gain and feel satiety.  Thus, it makes people fat.  He cited a study that showed obese people who consumed too much sugar lost no weight with exercise while those who didn’t successfully lost weight with exercise.

Not all scientists and nutritionists agree with Lustig because there haven’t been enough studies to conclusively prove his allegations.  However, many of them do believe that sugary drinks have really hurt the health of Americans.

Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy Center for Science in the Public Interest, said while no one food is responsible for obesity in America, sugary drinks are certainly a major factor.

She cited the following statistics/reasons:

- Sugary drinks, as an individual food, are the number one source of calories for Americans (“more than French fries, hamburgers, or anything else,” said Wootan)

- They are the only individual food that’s proven to be linked to obesity

- “Often times people don’t think about what they drink,” said Wootan.  That is, people trying to lose weight often only focus on regulating the solid food they eat. 

- Americans are “both overnourished and undernourished at the same time,” said Wootan.  They are overnourished in calories and undernourished in key nutrients.  Sugary drinks, which provides calories and no nutrients, is partially responsible for this problem.

- Americans’ intake of added sugars has increased by 20 percent from 1970 and 2005.  Americans now consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of sugar per day, or equivalent to 350 to 475 empty (i.e. sans nutrients) calories.

- In a typically 20-ounce Coca-cola bottle, there are 250 calories, all from sugar.  That’s already 12 percent of the overall recommended calorie intake of a 25-years-old, 150 pound, and 6 feet tall male with a sedentary lifestyle.  

- The 20-ounce bottle has about 15 teaspoons of sugar.  The American Heart Association, meanwhile, recommends only 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for adult males.



The American Beverage Association released the following statement in response to USDA’s anti-sugary drink stance:

The beverage industry agrees that obesity is a serious challenge facing our nation, but suggesting that consumers should replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water is overly simplistic and not proven to affect obesity rates.  Sugar-sweetened beverages, when consumed in moderation, can fit within a healthy diet.  As long as nutrient needs are met as part of an active, healthy and balanced lifestyle, there is no reason to restrict or limit any one food or beverage category.

Consumers looking to reduce total calorie intake have many available beverage options besides water, including no- and low-calorie beverages, which research has shown can help people lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.  This is a position supported by health organizations including the American Dietetic Association.

Importantly, our industry takes its role in being part of a comprehensive solution to reducing obesity very seriously.  In support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign, America’s leading beverage companies have come together in a voluntary commitment to put calorie information on the front of every bottle, can and pack they produce – and display the total calories per container on all beverages 20 fluid ounces or smaller. With the Clear on Calories initiative, the new, easy-to-understand calorie labels are designed to help consumers make the choice that is right for them and their families.  These labels began appearing on some beverages last fall and are now in stores across the nation, and will appear on all brands and packages by early 2012 as committed.