The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 20, 2013

Our View: Water is No. 1 again


The Free Press

— Here's some good news: Americans are now drinking more water than soda.

We should applaud ourselves. And we may be forgiven for feeling the urge to thumb our noses at the pessimists, the scolds and the do-gooders who keep telling us that we can't be trusted with our own lives. As it turns out, our so-called inability to make wise decisions about what we put into our bodies has been somewhat exaggerated.

Soda drinks had been the No. 1 choice on the beverage market for more than two decades with per-capita consumption of it outdistancing water by 54 gallons a year to 42 in 1998. Given today's popular perception, it's hard to believe that at one time -- as recently as 30 years ago, water was the drink of choice. Carbonated drinks, led by huge Coca-Cola and PepsiCo mass-marketing campaigns, began taking over in the 1980s. But now, good ol' H20 is being rediscovered.

News of water's resurgence tells us a couple of things. First, it reassures us that we Americans, in the midst of an obesity problem of epidemic proportions, are fully capable of weighing the benefits against the cons of imbibing high-calorie sugar-laden drinks. And it also (in fairness to the do-gooders) points out the merits of public service campaigns alerting us to the health issues involved. The message appears to be sinking in.

According to industry tracker Beverage Digest, the average American now drinks about 58 gallons of water per year, an increase of 38 percent since 1998. Soda drink consumption, meanwhile, is at 44 gallons, representing a 17 percent drop from the peak year of 1998. Credit marketing with some of that. At about the same time consumers began to turn from soda to water, single-serve water bottles were becoming popular helped, in part, by the emergence of new brands and slick packaging.

There is a certain irony associated with the rise of water. The news arrives at about the same time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's high-profile ban on big sugary drinks was struck down by State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling, who said the mayor's 16-ounce limit (which applied to only selected drinks and outlets) was too arbitrary to withstand scrutiny.

What Bloomberg appears to be learning is what many others among us already suspected -- that there are limits to what government can do to save us from ourselves. But the fact that many of us are taking matters into our own hands is encouraging.