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America's new love: water

Mar. 12, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

NEW YORK -- It wasn't too long ago that America had a love affair with soda. Now, an old flame has the country's heart.

As New York City grapples with the legality of a ban on the sale of large cups of soda and other sugary drinks at some businesses, one thing is clear: soda's run as the nation's beverage of choice has fizzled.

In its place? A favorite for much of history: Plain old H2O.

For more than two decades, soda was the No. 1 drink in the U.S. with per capita consumption peaking in 1998 at 54 gallons a year, according industry tracker Beverage Digest. Americans drank just 42 gallons a year of water at the time.

But over the years, as soda increasingly came under fire for fueling the nation's rising obesity rates, water quietly rose to knock it off the top spot.

Americans now drink an average of 44 gallons of soda a year, a 17 percent drop from the peak in 1998. Over the same time, the average amount of water people drink has increased 38 percent to about 58 gallons a year. Bottled water has led that growth, with consumption nearly doubling to 21 gallons a year.

Stephen Ngo, a civil defense attorney, quit drinking soda a year ago when he started running triathlons, and wanted a healthier way to quench his thirst.

Ngo, 34, has a Brita filter for tap water and also keeps his pantry stocked with cases of bottled water.

"It might just be the placebo effect or marketing, but it tastes crisper," said Ngo, who lives in Miami.

The trend reflects Americans' ever-changing tastes; it wasn't too far back in history that tap water was the top drink.

The new soft drink-like packaging helped fast-track bottled water's growth past milk and beer. In fact, the amount of bottled water Americans drink has risen nearly every year for more than two decades, while the estimates of how much tap water people drink has fluctuated up and down during that time. When taken together, water finally overtook soda in 2008, according to Beverage Digest. (It's difficult to track how much tap water people drink and how much is used for other things like washing dishes, so experts estimate consumption.)

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