How Do Teenagers View Soda?

Latest CDC survey suggests more challenges for top beverage category

ATLANTA -- A new survey of teenagers suggests carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) have a long road of sales decline ahead of them.

CDC Youth Risk Survey

The 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows a significant decline from 2013 to 2015 in the percentage of high school students drinking soda one or more times per day—from 27% to 20%.

"Though still broadly popular, weekly soda consumption declines accelerated ... to 73.8%," said beverage analyst Vivien Azer in a Cowen & Co. research report reviewing the CDC survey data. "Meanwhile, high per-capita consumption fell even more meaningfully, as incidence for 3+/day soda consumption fell ... to 7.1%."

While noting that CSDs are underperforming when compared to noncarbonated beverages and, specifically, bottled water, Azer's report underscores that CSDs still are a big piece of the packaged-beverage pie, accounting for 41% of category sales, according to Nielsen data.

Historically, Azer said, consumers migrate from full-sugar sodas to diet sodas as they age. That trend has not held up in recent years as research and news reports—accurate or not—focus on health issues associated with artificial sweeteners.

"Low calorie soda has been underperforming full calorie over the last three years," Azer said, adding that women in particular have been opting for other beverages as they get older.

The CDC data, combined with Cowen & Co.'s own research, leave Azer with a "cautious view" of CSD consumption trends.

"While our proprietary Cowen consumer survey does not track youth," Azer said, "the declines that we are seeing in full-calorie soda consumption among consumers over the age of 18 would indicate that the early declines in youth soda consumption are now impacting the broader category as these younger consumers age."

The 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey is part of the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. The system monitors six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, including:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
  • Sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors
  • Inadequate physical activity

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