Americans downed nearly a quarter less added sugar in 2008 than they did nine years earlier, a new report concludes.
The drop is largely due to a decrease in the amount of sugar-sweetened soda that people drank.
"We were surprised to see that there was a substantial reduction over the years," said Dr. Jean Welsh, a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta and the lead author of the report.
Although the reasons for the dip are still murky, she said a big push by the government and private organizations to alert consumers to the potential health hazards of sugar, obesity in particular, might have played a role.
Welsh and her colleagues used national surveys of more than 40,000 people's diets collected over a decade by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers calculated from the responses how much added sugar, that is, extra sugar used to sweeten food, people ate. Sugar that is originally a part of a food, such as the fructose in an apple, was not included.
Between 1999 and 2000, there was about 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of added sugar in a typical person's daily diet. By 2007 to 2008, the number was 77 grams, or 2.7 ounces.
That corresponds to a drop from 18 percent to 14.6 percent of people's total calorie intake.
"That's good to see, but it's still too high," Welsh told Reuters Health. "All our discretionary calories shouldn't exceed five to 15 percent of our calories, and we're consuming that much in just added sugar."
Two-thirds of the decrease was due to people chugging fewer sweetened beverages, according to the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The report notes that in the early 2000s, schools began to limit sugar-sweetened drinks for students, and low-carb diets for adults became more popular.
Dr. Barry Popkin, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the recession that began in late 2007 also sparked a change in the food people bought
"They all shifted toward cheaper goods, and shifted down the calories they bought," he told Reuters Health.
Still, Popkin, who was not involved in the new work, added that the survey might not tell the entire sugar story.
Fruit juice and fruit juice concentrate are also used to sweeten foods and drinks, he said, but are not included in survey data on added sugar.
"Fruit juice concentrate is just another sugar. It's deceiving to think this is a long term trend, and to interpret while ignoring fruit juice concentrate and fruit juice," Popkin said.
Energy drinks were the one source of added sugar in people's diets that increased from 1999 to 2008, although they still only make up a small part of the total calories.
The trend for energy drinks in the future "will be interesting to watch," said Welsh.