Pool of US water drinkers deepens

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NEW YORK (AP) — It wasn’t too long ago that America had a love affair with soda. Now, an old flame — water — has the country’s heart.

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 trickled into 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.

The trend reflects Americans’ ever-changing tastes. In the 1980s, carbonated soft drinks overtook tap water as the most popular drink.

Americans kept drinking more of the carbonated, sugary drink for about a decade. Then, soda’s magic started to fade: Doctors, health advocates and government officials blamed soft drinks for making people fat. Consumption started declining after hitting a high in the late 1990s.

At the same time, people started turning to bottled water as an alternative. Its popularity was helped by the emergence of single-serve bottles that were easy to carry around.

Analysts expect water to hold onto to its top spot for years to come. But whether people will drink from the tap or a bottle is uncertain.

Michael Bellas, CEO of the industry tracker Beverage Marketing Corp., predicts that bottled water alone could overtake soda within the next decade.

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