Gail Rampersaud, a University of Florida registered dietitian, and Lisa House, a UF food and resource economics professor teamed with other UF researchers to conduct the 60-question online survey, in which people from across the U.S. answered questions about their perceptions about various drinks.
They surveyed 3,361 adults to gauge how often they consumed non-alcoholic beverages, as well as their knowledge and perceptions about sugars in those drinks.
About half the participants said one of their top three concerns about beverages was sugar, and they drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages than those who did not list sugar as a top concern, the study showed.
The research found that many consumers do not have a major concern about added sugars in beverages they drink, and continue to consume relatively high amounts.
Men drink up to 550 calories a day in beverages, and sugar-sweetened beverages rank as the fourth-highest contributor to mean energy intake in the American diet, the study showed.
"The issue is: the Nutrition Facts panel does not make a distinction between natural sugars and added sugars," study's lead author Rampersaud said. "It would help consumers if added sugars were listed separately."
Research on the role of sugar-sweetened beverages shows strong evidence that they contribute to weight gain in adults. Thus consumers may not always know how much or what types of sugar they're choosing.
Based on previous studies, researchers hypothesized that survey respondents would have limited knowledge about sugars in their drinks. They also believed consumers would drink whatever tasted good, regardless of sugar concerns.
More than half the participants saw sodas, fruit drinks, fruit juice cocktails and sports drinks as sugary while almost half characterized diet sodas as sugary, suggesting many respondents saw the word "sugary" as a sweet-tasting beverage, and not necessarily one with added sweetener, the study said.
The study was published in the journal Nutrition Research.