NEW YORK - American adults get almost as many empty calories from booze as from soft drinks, a government study has found.
Soda and other sweetened drinks -- the focus of obesity-fighting public health campaigns -- are the source of about 6 percent of the calories adults consume, on average. Alcoholic beverages account for about 5 percent, the new study found.
"We've been focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages. This is something new," said Cynthia Ogden, one of the study's authors. She's an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the findings Thursday.
The government researchers say the findings deserve attention because, like soda, alcohol contains few nutrients but plenty of calories.
But a liquor trade association said the findings indicate there's no big problem.
"This research shows that the overwhelming majority of adults drink moderately," said Lisa Hawkins, of the Distilled Spirits Council.
The CDC study is based on interviews with more than 11,000 U.S. adults from 2007 through 2010. Participants were asked extensive questions about what they ate and drank over the previous 24 hours.
For reference, a 12-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola has 140 calories, slightly less than a same-sized can of regular Budweiser. A 5-ounce glass of wine is about 100 calories.
In September, New York City approved an unprecedented measure cracking down on giant sodas, those bigger than 16 ounces, or half a liter. It will take effect in March and bans sales of drinks that large at restaurants, cafeterias and concession stands.
Should New York officials now start cracking down on tall beers and monster margaritas?
There are no plans for that, city health officials said, adding in a statement that while studies show that sugary drinks are "a key driver of the obesity epidemic," alcohol is not.
Health officials should think about enacting policies to limit alcoholic intake, but New York's focus on sodas is appropriate, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group.
Soda and sweetened beverages are the bigger problem, especially for kids -- the No. 1 source of calories in the U.S. diet, she said.
"In New York City, it was smart to start with sugary drinks. Let's see how it goes and then think about next steps," she said.