National Edition

Survey: Regular soda popular with young, ethnic, low-income

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

A new Gallup poll shows young adults, nonwhites and people with few economic resources drink more regular soda in the United States compared to other Americans.

"Diet soda consumption increases with age and as income rises, with seniors and those making $75,000 or more annually being the most likely to consume it. Americans living in the East and those with high incomes are the most likely to shun soda altogether," the survey summary said.

The new Gallup poll also found that 43 percent of Americans don't drink soda at all. Those who do drink it prefer regular soda to diet, 32 percent to 24 percent.

The question is what impact soda, diet or otherwise, has on health and whether it disproportionately affects certain populations, including the poor.

Researchers link soda to weight gain. Regular soda is believed to contribute to obesity, while some experts believe even diet soda may spark weight gain. The survey results hint that low-income, nonwhite and young adults may be putting themselves at risk of obesity. It shows that people who are overweight are more likely to consume soda than those who are "about right." Of those overweight, 32 percent said they consume diet sodas, compared to 19 percent of the "about right" weight group. In both weight groups, 31 percent said they consume regular sodas.

An earlier survey noted that both blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be obese than whites, while Asians are less likely to be obese. Obesity is the unhealthiest range of being overweight, with a Body Mass Index score of 30 or higher. Normal range is 18 to 24.

According to the earlier survey report, "obesity of all types is related to higher levels of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes as well as a lower quality of life — including worse emotional health, more daily pain and more missed work. It is also tied to shorter life expectancy. The more obese an individual is, the more likely he or she is to experience these types of problems. And those who are morbidly obese — with BMIs of 40 or higher — are the most at risk."

Both Gallup surveys and other research have shown that obesity levels go down as income and education levels rise.

The "bottom line," according to analysis of the recent survey, is that "more than half of Americans drink soda — and regular soda edges out diet among those who consume these beverages. Regular soda contains a lot of calories and sugar, which can have negative health implications. Increased awareness of this among government officials and consumers is apparent in efforts to remove soda machines from school lunchrooms, to limit the size of beverages that restaurants can serve and in the decreasing market share for soda compared with bottled water and other beverages."

But there are questions. "It is diet soda that the overweight are much more likely to drink," the survey summary said. "It is possible that overweight Americans have become much more aware of regular soda's high caloric level and could have disproportionately shifted to diet soda, making the exact relationship between consuming soda — regular or diet — and being overweight hard to decipher."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has garnered a great deal of attention for his belief that too much soda consumption hurts health.

In March, he and local health officials released a local study "showing the strong correlation between sugary drink consumption and obesity. The data, from the New York City Community Health Survey, looks at the relationship between sugary drink consumption and obesity by neighborhood and shows that in each of the five boroughs, those neighborhoods with higher rates of consumption of sugary drinks tended to have higher obesity rates."

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