Does bad news for Coke and Pepsi equate to good news for America’s waistline?

According to a March 20 report from industry journal Beverage Digest, a seven-year trend of declining soda purchases didn’t just continue in 2011, it accelerated:

  • After falling 0.5% from 2009 to 2010, the sale of carbonated soft drinks shrank by a full 1% in 2011.
  • The total volume of carbonated soft drinks sold in the United States in 2011 (more than 9.2 billion cases) was the lowest annual total since 1996.
  • Per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks fell from 728 eight-ounce servings in 2010 to 714 servings in 2011, the lowest consumption rate since 1986.

Clearly – with more than 9 billion cases sold, and more than 700 servings consumed per person — soda is hardly scarce in American refrigerators and restaurants. But just as clearly, the demand for this product is dwindling.

“Carbonated soft drinks, while still the biggest category, are playing a declining role in Americans’ beverage consumption,” wrote the authors of the journal’s annual special report on beverage sales.

Soda Consumption, Overweight and Obesity

The decline in soda sales appears to coincide with greater awareness of the relationship between these drinks and rising rates of obesity. ¬†For example, in a 2005 report entitled “Liquid Candy,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that carbonated soda accounts for the single largest source of calories in the diet of the average American.

The following year, a report from the Harvard School of Public Health bolstered the CSPI findings. An Aug. 9, 2006, Consumer Affairs article described the Harvard research this way:

The study points the finger of blame at the main sweetener used in soft drinks, high fructose corn syrup. Not only does it contain more calories than regular refined sugar, but some studies suggest it reduces the body’s ability to process calories.

The study notes the increased availability of soft drinks has also been a contributing factor. It notes that consuming one extra soft drink each day would add 15 pounds in body weight to the normal person in a year.

The question that remains as-yet unanswered, though, is perhaps the most important one: Does the current decline in soda sales indicate an increase in healthier nutrition habits among Americans?