California's teenagers are drinking more sugar-sweetened drinks than ever despite a marked decline in consumption among younger children, according to a new study.
Daily consumption of sugary drinks — sodas, flavored waters and sports drinks — fell 30 percent among 2-5 year olds between 2005 and 2012 and 26 percent among 6-11 year olds in the same span, according to the study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
Yet among the state's teenagers, consumption of sugary drinks increased 8 percent.
North Coast health officials said teens are increasingly consuming beverages that are pitched as energy drinks or athletic supplements but are loaded with added sugar.
"The growth of that energy drink market has really exploded," said Rebecca Smith, resource development coordinator with Marin County's health and prevention services.
"They are really targeting young people and preying on that sense of independence and a kind of new, hip, fashionable drink," she said.
But inroads are being made through education campaigns and public service announcements that encourage young people to read labels and consider beverages as an additional source of daily calories.
In Marin County, the percentage of children who drank at least one sugary beverage per day dropped 19 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to the study.
In Sonoma County, the percentage of children who drank at least one sugary beverage per day dropped 25 percent in that period, marking one of the steepest declines in the state.
In Napa, the rates dropped 31 percent, while Mendocino remained even.
In Lake County, the UCLA study found that intake of sugary drinks shot up 36 percent. Dr. Karen Tait, the county health officer, questioned the sample size for Lake County, which study authors noted was "statistically unstable."
"What it tells me is that the sample size is so small that the numbers are not very statistically reliable," Tait said.
"That is not to say we are not concerned," she said. "I think it is a trend in young people that has to be dealt with through education and other measures."
Because soda and sugar-sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the diets of all Americans, county health officials say they are increasingly addressing not only what food choices people are making but what they are drinking as well.
"The research really shows that there is a strong correlation between sugary beverages and the current overweight, obesity crisis this county is going through," said Colleen Schenck, program administrator in the prevention and planning unit of the Mendocino County Health and Human Services office.
California banned soda sales in schools in 2009, but so-called energy drinks remain.
But drink sales from snack bars run by booster clubs are considered by some to be a crucial source of fundraising for athletic teams, drama departments and other school programs.
"There is a fair amount of resistance" to eliminating sugary drinks from booster sales, said Schenck. "That is a really challenging area because they are trying to raise money for school organizations."
In Sonoma County, the financial cost of health care and lost productivity related to physical inactivity and overweight people was $437 million in 2006, according to the latest figures from the Center for Public Health Advocacy.