Drinking Our Way to Obesity
Calories From Beverages Doubled Since the 1960s
Dec. 10, 2007 -- Americans now get nearly twice as many calories from
beverages as they did in the 1960s.
The finding comes from an analysis of national surveys conducted in 1965,
1977, 1988, and 2002 by doctoral student Kiyah J. Duffey and Barry M. Popkin,
PhD, of the University of North Carolina.
In 1965, Americans got about 12% of their daily calories from things they
drank. Calories from beverages went up decade by decade. By 2002, beverages
made up 21% of daily calorie intake.
"By 2002, 30% of the U.S. population was consuming a quarter of calories
or more from beverages," Duffey tells WebMD. "This is just a huge
It isn't just sodas, although by 2002 Americans were getting 100 more
calories a day from sodas then they were in 1965. Alcoholic beverages, 100%
fruit juice, and fruit-juice drinks contribute significantly more calories to
our daily diets than they did in the 1960s.
So what's the big deal? Duffey says beverage calories don't fill you up the
way food calories do.
"Beverages are an additional source of calories, not something we are
substituting for other foods," she says. "This really affects the
calorie-in/calorie-out scale. Even small changes in beverage consumption can
have an effect on stemming weight gain and perhaps, in the
long run, addressing some issues of the obesity epidemic."
The findings come as no surprise to Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, WebMD's
director of nutrition.
"Nowadays you can go to the corner Starbucks and have a cup of hot
chocolate for 400-plus calories, so it's not surprising we continue to get more
calories from beverages," Zelman says. "And beverages satisfy thirst,
not hunger. It doesn't matter how much you drink -- it doesn't affect how much
The findings neither surprise nor impress Maureen Storey, PhD, senior vice
president for science policy at the American Beverage Association.
"Beverage choices have changed in the last 40 years and beverage
patterns have changed," Storey tells WebMD. "There have been many
changes over 40 years. We baby boomers are 40 years older; our whole lifestyle
One of the things that has changed since the '60s is the number of different
calorie-filled beverages -- and the portion size of these beverages, says
Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of
"In 1965 we did not have energy drinks, or fruit drinks, or glasses the
size of our heads," Bonci says. "If you were to show any person on the
street a 1965 Coke bottle, they'd say, 'I would have to have five of
Storey notes that the calories we consume are only part of the equation. The
other side of the balance is the calories we burn during physical exercise. If
you're looking for a scapegoat for the obesity epidemic, Storey suggests, this
is a good place to start.
"I think that all of us have to recognize we must balance the calories
we take in from all foods and beverages with how much physical activity we are
willing to expend," she says. "This is critically important for people
to understand: How much are we willing to be active for how many calories
we are taking in?"
The Duffey/Popkin study appears in the November issue of the journal