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Coming Down from the Sugar Rush

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Americans will always have a sweet tooth, but it may have dulled a bit over the past decade according to one recent study.

sugarballs.jpgResearchers compared the amount of added sugars consumed by more than 40,000 people polled by the Centers for Disease Control between 1999 and 2000, and between 2007 and 2008. The numbers show that these people consumed a quarter less added sugar in that time span.

There’s a convergence of factors behind these findings. On the policy front, we’ve seen changes to school lunches and the availability of soft drinks and other sweet treats in schools. The natural and organic industry took off in that time period as well, with many consumers turning away from processed foods while at the same time demanding alternative sweeteners like stevia and agave. And let’s not forget about the recession, either, which saw people buying cheaper, lower calorie foods.

To anti-obesity advocates this is all encouraging, if not quite a reason to celebrate. The drop in average daily added sugar intake went from 100 grams in the 1999-2000 period to 77 grams in 2007-2008 — basically, from “very high” to “high”. Still, it’s something to build upon.

To retailers, this comes as a confirmation of just how ingredient-conscious consumers have become, and how serious they are about eating healthier. Much of the ire lately has been directed at high fructose corn syrup, but the crosshairs are also on pure sugar with concerns about obesity and diabetes high, and with popular diets now emphasizing foods low on the glycemic index.

In terms of overall public health, this is promising news. Vested interests, however, aren’t going down without a fight. According to a recent Reuters report, soda makers have sued New York City’s health department and filed document requests with local municipalities that have run advertisements and public campaigns criticizing the beverages.

It’s an uphill battle, for sure. With soda sales down, consumers are shifting towards less sweet, functional drinks. Retailers have accommodated them here, and they should be ready to pull back even further on sweetened foods and beverages. Just don’t go too far — everyone needs a candy bar every now and then to maintain sanity.

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