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Fact Sheet: Sugary Drink Consumption

The information provided here is intended to be used for educational purposes. Links to other resources and websites are intended to provide additional information aligned with this educational purpose.

Sugary drinks include regular soda, fruit drinks with less than 100% juice, sweetened water, sports and energy drinks, and coffees and teas with added sugars.1,2 

  • Diet drinks, alcohol, coffee, and teas without added sugars and flavored milks that contain 50% dairy or more are usually not considered sugary drinks.3 
  • On average, US adults and children consume nearly 150 calories a day from sugary drinks, or about 6-12% of their daily caloric needs.2,4 

Sugary drinks account for nearly half of the total added sugars in a typical American diet.About half of adults and over 60% of kids consume a sugary drink on any given day.2-5 

  • Despite some decline in consumption in recent years, both adults and kids in the US continue to consume more sugary drinks and added sugars than recommended.1,6,7 Sugary drinks are often cheaper than bottled water, making them an attractive option when tap water is not safe to drink.8,9 
  • Beverage companies focus advertising10,11 and retail marketing12 efforts on African Americans and Hispanic Americans, as well as on children.13 
  • Research shows that African Americans and Hispanic Americans drink more sugary drinks compared to non-Hispanic White Americans.4,14,15 Among households with young children, those with lower incomes purchased more sweetened fruit drinks compared to households with higher incomes.16 

There is strong evidence suggesting that drinking too many sugary drinks substantially increases the risk of gaining excess weight and obesity,17,18 and developing chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, and cavities.19-22 

Experts recommend drinking water instead of sugary drinks.23 There are many ways to make drinking water more available: 

  • At home:
    • Be a model to kids by limiting or eliminating your own consumption of sugary drinks.
    • Offer drinking water or other non-sugary options.
  • At school:
    • Teach students about the amount of sugar in common beverages and the importance of reducing intake for improved health outcomes.24,25
    • Implement federal food and beverage standards that prohibit sales of unhealthy options like sugary drinks in schools.26,27
    • Increase access to and promotion of free, safe drinking water in schools.28
  • In your city, county, or state:
    • Limit sales of sugary drinks on city property.29
    • Create healthier out-of-school time environments by training staff to adopt a healthy beverage policy in their programs.30,31
    • Implement a sugary drink excise tax to discourage consumption, as many US jurisdictions have successfully done.32,33 This is projected to be a cost-saving strategy that can improve population health and health equity.

Additional Resources


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture; 2015:144. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf
  2. Rosinger A, Herrick K, Gahche J, Park S. Sugar-sweetened Beverage Consumption Among U.S. Youth, 2011-2014. NCHS Data Brief. 2017;(271):1-8.
  3. City of Philadelphia Department of Revenue. What is subject to the tax. City of Philadelphia. Published November 8, 2019. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.phila.gov/services/payments-assistance-taxes/business-taxes/philadelphia-beverage-tax/what-is-subject-to-the-tax
  4. Rosinger A, Herrick K, Gahche J, Park S. Sugar-sweetened Beverage Consumption Among U.S. Adults, 2011-2014. NCHS Data Brief. 2017;(270):1-8.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published March 11, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html
  6. Vercammen KA, Moran AJ, Soto MJ, Kennedy-Shaffer L, Bleich SN. Decreasing Trends in Heavy Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in the United States, 2003 to 2016. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020;120(12):1974-1985.e5. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2020.07.012
  7. Bleich SN, Wang YC, Wang Y, Gortmaker SL. Increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among US adults: 1988-1994 to 1999-2004. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(1):372-381. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26883
  8. Blecher E. Global Trends in the Affordability of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, 1990–2016. Prev Chronic Dis. 2017;14. doi:10.5888/pcd14.160406
  9. Brooks CJ, Gortmaker SL, Long MW, Cradock AL, Kenney EL. Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities in Hydration Status Among US Adults and the Role of Tap Water and Other Beverage Intake. Am J Public Health. 2017;107(9):1387-1394. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303923
  10. Powell LM, Wada R, Kumanyika SK. Racial/Ethnic and Income Disparities in Child and Adolescent Exposure to Food and Beverage Television Ads across U.S. Media Markets. Health Place. 2014;29:124-131. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.06.006
  11. Cassady DL, Liaw K, Miller LMS. Disparities in Obesity-Related Outdoor Advertising by Neighborhood Income and Race. J Urban Health. 2015;92(5):835-842. doi:10.1007/s11524-015-9980-1
  12. Adjoian T, Dannefer R, Sacks R, Van Wye G. Comparing Sugary Drinks in the Food Retail Environment in Six NYC Neighborhoods. J Community Health. 2014;39(2):327-335. doi:10.1007/s10900-013-9765-y
  13. Smith R, Kelly B, Yeatman H, Boyland E. Food Marketing Influences Children’s Attitudes, Preferences and Consumption: A Systematic Critical Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):875. doi:10.3390/nu11040875
  14. Kit BK, Fakhouri THI, Park S, Nielsen SJ, Ogden CL. Trends in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among youth and adults in the United States: 1999-2010. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(1):180-188. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.057943
  15. Bleich SN, Vercammen KA, Koma JW, Li Z. Trends in Beverage Consumption Among Children and Adults, 2003-2014. Obes Silver Spring Md. 2018;26(2):432-441. doi:10.1002/oby.22056
  16. Choi YY, Andreyeva T, Fleming-Milici F, Harris JL. U.S. Households’ Children’s Drink Purchases: 2006–2017 Trends and Associations With Marketing. Am J Prev Med. 2021;0(0). doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2021.06.013
  17. Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet Lond Engl. 2001;357(9255):505-508. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04041-1
  18. Hu FB. Resolved: there is sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases. Obes Rev. 2013 Aug;14(8):606-19.
  19. Reilly JJ, Kelly J. Long-term impact of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence on morbidity and premature mortality in adulthood: systematic review. Int J Obes 2005. 2011;35(7):891-898. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.222
  20. Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors for Chronic Diseases Collaboration (BMI Mediated Effects), Lu Y, Hajifathalian K, et al. Metabolic mediators of the effects of body-mass index, overweight, and obesity on coronary heart disease and stroke: a pooled analysis of 97 prospective cohorts with 1·8 million participants. Lancet Lond Engl. 2014;383(9921):970-983. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61836-X
  21. Singh GM, Danaei G, Farzadfar F, et al. The Age-Specific Quantitative Effects of Metabolic Risk Factors on Cardiovascular Diseases and Diabetes: A Pooled Analysis. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(7):e65174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065174
  22. World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective.; 2008:537. Accessed November 29, 2021. http://choicereviews.org/review/10.5860/CHOICE.45-5024
  23. Water. The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Accessed September 2, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/water
  24. Rauba J, Tahir A, Milford B, et al. Reduction of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in Elementary School Students Using an Educational Curriculum of Beverage Sugar Content. Glob Pediatr Health. 2017;4:2333794X17711778. doi:10.1177/2333794X17711778
  25. Cheung PLYH, Dart H, Kalin S, Otis B, Gortmaker SL. Lesson 19: Beverage Buzz: Sack the Sugar; Lesson 20: Go for H2O. In: Eat Well and Keep Moving. 3rd Edition Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Press, 2016.
  26. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Competitive Foods and Beverages in U.S. Schools, A State Policy Analysis.; 2012:32. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/pdf/compfoodsbooklet.pdf
  27. Muckelbauer R, Gortmaker SL, Libuda L, et al. Changes in water and sugar-containing beverage consumption and body weight outcomes in children. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(11):2057-2066. doi:10.1017/S0007114516001136
  28. Kenney EL, Cradock AL, Long MW, Barrett JL, Giles CM, Ward ZJ, Gortmaker SL. Cost-Effectiveness of Water Promotion Strategies in Schools for Preventing Childhood Obesity and Increasing Water Intake. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019 Dec;27(12):2037-2045. doi: 10.1002/oby.22615. PMID: 31746555.
  29. Cradock AL, Kenney EL, McHugh A, Conley L, Mozaffarian RS, Reiner JF, et al. Evaluating the Impact of the Healthy Beverage Executive Order for City Agencies in Boston, Massachusetts, 2011–2013. Prev Chronic Dis 2015;12:140549. doi:10.5888/pcd12.140549
  30. Kenney EL, Austin SB, Cradock AL, Giles CM, Lee RM, Davison KK, Gortmaker SL. Identifying sources of children’s consumption of junk food in Boston afterschool programs, April-May 2011. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2014 Nov 20;11:E205.
  31. Salas TM, Meinen A, Kim H, McCulloch S, Reiner J, Barrett J, Cradock AL. Wisconsin: Supporting Healthy Beverage Choices in Out-of-School Time Programs {Issue Brief}. Wisconsin Department of Health Services & University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, and the CHOICES Learning Collaborative Partnership at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA; May 2021. For more information, please visit www.choicesproject.org
  32. Krieger J, Bleich SN, Scarmo S, Ng SW. Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Reduction Policies: Progress and Promise. Annu Rev Public Health. 2021 Apr 1;42:439-461. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-090419-103005. Epub 2021 Nov 30. PMID: 33256536.
  33. Gortmaker SL, Bleich SN, Kenney EL, Barrett JL, Ward ZJ, Long MW, Cradock AL. Cost-Effective Strategies to Prevent Obesity and Improve Health Equity. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2021. https://choicesproject.org/publications/cost-effective-strategies-health-equity

Suggested Citation

Get the Facts: Sugary Drink Consumption. Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity Team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA; January 2023. 


This work is supported by The JPB Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U48DP006376). The findings and conclusions are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other funders. The information provided here is intended to be used for educational purposes. Links to other resources and websites are intended to provide additional information aligned with this educational purpose. 

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