BARTOW – Florida orange juice has gotten some good press recently.

A University of Washington study shows regular OJ consumption does not cause obesity in children. Also an English study shows drinking OJ daily can improve memory.

The industry needs the good news because orange juice sales keep slipping, according to the latest report by the Florida Department of Citrus.

-7.1 percent

The decline in sales of 100 percent orange juice for the four-week period ending March 18 compared to a similar period last year, according to the report from the Department of Citrus report, a state agency charged with promoting the state’s citrus products.

Orange juice promotion accounts for most of the department’s budget, reflecting that oranges are the state’s largest citrus crop by far. The state’s juice processors buy 95 percent of the annual harvest, and they supply most of the OJ sold in the U.S.

The reporting period came before the release of a University of Washington study that found moderate consumption of 100 percent fruit juices by children does not lead to weight gain, as reported in a March 23 story in the Independent Record, a newspaper in Helena, Mont.

“We’ve been saying all along that one serving of 100 percent Florida orange juice per day should be a healthy part of a child’s diet,” said Michael Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland.

Once seen as nutritious, OJ and other 100 percent juices have come under assault by some pediatricians and public-health officials because of their sugar content. They argue it contributes to childhood obesity in particular and the general rise in obesity in the U.S.

“So this is great news and we feel somewhat vindicated, but there is a level of frustration that we’ve been seen as a bad guy in recent years,” Sparks said. “The study serves as a reminder that our growers produce a terrific product that not only tastes good, but it is good for you.”

The study’s author agreed.

“Based on the current evidence, we didn't find that consuming one serving (of 100 percent fruit juice) a day contributes to weight gain in children," said Brandon Auerbach, acting instructor of medicine at the Seattle-based university, in the Record story.

The full story is at http://bit.ly/2pyCCLm.

4.7 percent

The average price increase for a gallon of all OJ products sold during the period ending March 18 compared to a year earlier.

The average OJ price stood at $6.86 per gallon last month compared with $6.56 per gallon in March 2016, the report said.

Price remains a major influence in OJ purchasing and consumption, Florida citrus industry economists have said.

In the past, a 1 percent increase in OJ’s average price led almost exactly to a 1 percent decline in sales while a 1 percent price decline led to a similar sales rise.

But that relationship hasn’t held for several years, as the current report shows. The sales drop has exceeded the average price increase, suggesting other market factors involved.

Besides the sugar controversy, some have suggested that fewer people have a sit-down family breakfast, in which OJ was once a featured ingredient.

Some industry economists point out that the sales decline stems from the lower supply of orange juice.

The Florida orange harvest has declined by about 70 percent in the past decade as the state’s orange groves have become infected with the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening. Reliably more than 1 billion gallons before greening, Florida OJ production is projected at 355 million gallons for the 2016-17 season, according to another Citrus Department report.

-7.4 percent

The total decline in OJ sales at the halfway point of the 2016-17 season, according to the Citrus Department.

The sales decline came on an average 2.8 percent hike in the average price of all 100 percent OJ products for the season, which began in October, through March 18.

The Citrus Department predicts the 2017-18 season will end with an overall 7.2 percent decline in OJ sales. If that proves accurate, it would be the 15th season out of the past 16 to show an overall sales decline.

That would be hard to forget if you’re a Florida orange grower or regular OJ consumer, according to a recent study from the University of Reading in Great Britain.

8 percent

That's the additional amount of information 37 test subjects could recall after drinking 500 milliliters (almost 17 ounces) of 100 percent orange juice daily for eight weeks, according to the Reading study as reported on iol.com, a consortium of leading South African newspapers.

The study tested the subjects for their ability to recall memorized words quickly after the eight weeks of drinking orange juice and then compared the results to a same period drinking “orange squash,” a syrupy beverage used for mixed drinks.

The researchers think that the flavonoids, or natural plant chemicals, in OJ increase blood flow to the brain, which, they said, “improves connections between brain cells and aids memory,” according to the iol.com report available at http://bit.ly/2pbH8CZ.

—Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-401-6980. Read more on Florida citrus on his Facebook page, Florida Citrus Witness, http://bit.ly/baxWuU.