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Soft Drinks Just Another Food Choice? continued...

"This was a very well done, careful study," Popkin tells WebMD. "It highlights ... the effects of sugared beverage intake on health."

Richard Adamson, PhD, a former NIH researcher, now serves as scientific consultant to The American Beverage Association, the trade group representing the U.S. soft-drink industry. His take on the Yale study is far different from that of Popkin.

Adamson says the Yale researchers did not include important studies that do not implicate soft drinks in obesity. He therefore wonders whether the authors cherry-picked studies and study data that support a preconceived conclusion.

And he says the study certainly does not prove that calories from soft drinks are more dangerous than calories from other foods.

"The idea that drinking liquid calories is different than eating solid calories is debatable," Adamson tells WebMD. "There are studies that show it is calorie intake that is important. It has nothing to do with whether foods are in a liquid or solid form."

If she seems to be picking on the soft-drink industry, Schwartz says, it's "because we really feel the science is there."

She notes that U.S. soft drink consumption has grown along with the U.S. obesity epidemic. In 1970, Americans drank 22 gallons of nondiet soft drinks per person. By 1997, that nearly doubled to 41 gallons per person -- and obesity went up 112%.

Tracey Halliday, a spokesperson for the American Beverage Association, says there's nothing wrong with choosing a soft drink for refreshment -- if it's part of an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

"It comes down to balancing calories consumed vs. calories burned," Halliday tells WebMD. "The beverage industry provides a range of choices, from bottled waters to sugared beverages, and all of them can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Adults can make healthy choices, and sugared beverages can be part of that."

Schwartz insists that sugared soft drinks aren't just another beverage.

"The message that soft drinks are not healthy beverages has been obscured by the industry rhetoric that any food can fit into a healthy diet," she says. "Our paper shows that all beverages are not equal."

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