Obesity affects 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of children in the United States and accounts for more than $168 billion in health care spendingeach year. Sugary beverages are thought to be one of the major drivers of the obesity epidemic. These drinks (think soda and sports drinks) are the largest single source of added sugars for Americans and contribute, on average, 145 added calories a day to our diets. For these reasons, reducing sugary beverage consumption has been a significant focus of public health intervention. Most efforts have focused on sodas.
But not juice. Juice, for some reason, gets a pass. It’s not clear why.
Americans drink a lot of juice. The average adult drinks 6.6 gallons per year. More than half of preschool-age children (ages 2 to 5) drink juice regularly, a proportion that, unlike for sodas, has not budged in recent decades. These children consume on average 10 ounces per day, more than twice the amount recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Parents tend to associate juice with healthfulness, are unaware of its relationship to weight gain and are reluctant to restrict it in their child’s diet. After all, 100 percent fruit juice — sold in handy individual servings — has been marketed as a natural source of vitamins and calcium. Department of Agriculture guidelines state that up to half of fruit servings can be provided in the form of 100 percent juice and recommend drinking fortified orange juice for the vitamin D. Some brands of juice are evenmarketed to infants.
Government programs designed to provide healthy food for children, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, offer juice for kids. Researchers have found that children in the program are more likely to exceed the recommended daily fruit juice limit than those who are similarly poor but not enrolled.
Despite all the marketing and government support, fruit juices contain limited nutrients and tons of sugar. In fact, one 12-ounce glass of orange juice contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is roughly what’s in a can of Coke.