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Sodas and Your Health: Risks Debated

Experts debate the research on potential health risks of soft drinks.

Patterns of Bias?

The ABA says the vast majority of studies supporting a soda-obesity link were done by researchers with strong anti-soda biases. Storey also says many of these biased or poorly done studies are covered by news media, while studies showing no link don't get the same attention.

“All too often, studies that don’t show a relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity or other health concerns are not reported, while the ones that show even a very weak relationship are,” she says.

Obesity researcher Kelly Brownell, PhD, who led the Yale study and supports taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, sees bias on the other side of the debate.

“Studies that do not support a relationship between consumption of sugared beverages and health outcomes tend to be conducted by authors supported by the beverage industry,” Brownell wrote in a 2009 New England Journal of Medicine article supporting a soda tax.

One such study, funded by the British sugar industry group The Sugar Bureau, examined sugar and soft drink consumption among 1,300 children in the U.K. The study found no evidence that soft drinks alone affected children’s weight.

Rachel K. Johnson, RD, PhD, MPH, is a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and an American Heart Association spokeswoman. She served on the American Heart Association's 2009 panel that recommended limiting added sugars, including those in drinks.

Johnson says she does not believe the science linking sodas to obesity and other health issues has been misrepresented or over-reported.

“I don’t think anyone would say that limiting sugar-sweetened drinks is the only solution,” she says. “But to me, it is an important step in the right direction.”

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Reviewed on March 09, 2011

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