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Sugary Drinks and Weight Gain Linked

Sugary Drinks and Weight Gain in Kids

In another study, researchers assigned 641 children, ages 4 to 11 and mostly average weight, to drink either an 8-ounce sugar-free drink or an 8-ounce sugary drink daily for 18 months.

In all, 477 completed the study. The children who drank the sugar-free drink gained less fat, says Martijn B. Katan, PhD, emeritus professor of nutrition at VU University in Amsterdam. They also gained fewer pounds.

Those who drank the sugary drink gained about 16 pounds. Those who drank the sugar-free drink gained about 14 pounds.

While that difference may seem small, it is not insignificant, Katan says.

The size of the drink studied, 8 ounces, is far below the daily average in the U.S., he says. "With average consumption, you could be talking in the United States, say, about [a difference of] 5.5 pounds."

Sugary Drinks and Weight Gain in Teens

In a third study, researchers split 224 overweight or obese teens who regularly drank sugary drinks into two groups.

One group was encouraged to drink fewer sugary drinks during a one-year program. They were followed for another year without a formal program.

The other group was not encouraged to have fewer sugary drinks.

The researchers, from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard, tracked changes in body mass index (BMI). At two years, there was no substantial difference in BMI between the groups.

At one year, however, the rise in BMI was smaller in the group that was encouraged to have fewer sugary drinks.

Beverage Industry Perspective

Americans are drinking fewer sugary drinks, according to the American Beverage Association. In its statement, it says that calorie intake from sugary drinks declined by more than 20% between 2001 and 2010.

"By every measure, sugar-sweetened beverages play a small and declining role in the American diet," it says.

"Obesity is caused by an imbalance between calories consumed from all foods and beverages and those burned through physical activity," the statement says.

The industry group took exception with the new findings. Among the many criticisms:

  • The study in children, it says, did not consider physical activity and total calories.
  • The genetic study looked only at the 32 known genes linked with weight, but these account for only a small amount of BMI variation, according to the American Beverage Association.

Advice for Parents

"Parents should do their best at home to have water [for children] instead of soda," Appel says. "We have equated quenching our thirst with a sweetened beverage," he says.

Water can quench thirst, too, he says.

Parents who choose to keep soda at home should give children controlled amounts, Appel says.

"I think all people really don't need to drink sweetened beverages," says Nancy Copperman, RD, director of public health initiatives for North Shore LIJ Health Systems in Great Neck, N.Y. Nutritionally, they are not a beverage of choice, she says.

If quitting sugary beverages cold turkey is difficult, focus on cutting down, she says.

In an editorial, Sonia Caprio, MD, of the Yale School of Medicine, writes: "Taken together, these three studies suggest that calories from sugar-sweetened beverages do matter."

The time has come, she writes, for both children and adults to have fewer sugary drinks.

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