In this article, I will show that added sugar intake in the United States is going down, using:
1. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data;
2. United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) data;
3. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data;
4. Corporate sales data.
USDA data. My own representation. Plotted against obesity.
On the left, USDA data again. On the right, FAO data.
The reason FAO data show higher values on the Y-axis is that the FAO values are not loss-adjusted. Basically, they don’t adjust for estimated food waste. But the key point is that the trends are the same.
(For reproducibility’s sake, these representations can easily be reproduced by going to USDA ERS Food Availability Data and downloading the spreadsheets, here. And FAO-STAT, here. Want help doing it? Send me a message.)
Now here is NHANES on sugar-sweetened beverage intake. 2018 paper. Despite entirely different methodologies between USDA/FAO and NHANES, we see the same story.
Actually, in less than 15 years, self-reported sugar-sweetened beverage intake has MORE THAN HALVED:
Here is another representation of the same data. Wow.
NHANES again, this time a 2011 paper. Note the nearly 25% drop in reported total added sugar and sugar-sweetened beverage intake in just eight years.
This is just stopping in 2008, too.
We have looked at USDA, FAO, and NHANES data. What about corporate sales data?
A 2011 paper systematically organized and presented these data as well.
Here we see that in terms of volume, water has progressively replaced sugary drinks (my labels).
In terms of energy, Pepsi sold around 20% fewer calories in just TEN YEARS (2000-2010). Coca-Cola, around 15%.
Nine more years have elapsed since then. If that trend continued from 2010 to 2019–and the other data sets suggest it might have–a 25-40% drop is likely.
The present anti-sugar movement is not an anti-corporate phenomenon started in recent years but has been underway since around 2000. Meanwhile, obesity has skyrocketed.
While I think decreasing added sugar intake (and implementing anti-sugar policies) is a good idea for personal and public health, obesity is about a lot more than just sugar.
Indeed, as the USDA data show, the largest increase in calories in the food system has in fact come from fat–specifically, salad and cooking oils (specifically, soybean oil).
I cover this in more detail here.
So has added sugar and soft drink intake been dramatically declining for the past 20 years? Yes. Has obesity been dramatically increasing for the past 20 years? Also yes.
Correlation is not causation, but if added sugar is the cause of the obesity epidemic, one wonders why the obesity epidemic did not start in 1980–when added sugar intake was almost exactly the same as it is today in 2020.
The data get even more interesting when we look at the United Kingdom. Much more interesting. And provocative. Stay tuned.