Curbing Colas May Prevent Childhood Obesity

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 22, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

April 22, 2004 -- Cutting back on carbonated beverages may help curb the rising tide of childhood obesity, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that discouraging the consumption of sugary soft drinks over the course of a year significantly reduced childhood obesity rates among a group of British schoolchildren.

Obesity among children has reached epidemic proportions, and researchers say excessive consumption of carbonated beverages sweetened with sugar is at least partly to blame. These drinks have little nutritional value.

Fewer Soft Drinks Stops Obesity

In the study, researchers introduced an educational program to six elementary schools in Christchurch, England, over one school year.

The program consisted of a one-hour session each term in which the children were told that by decreasing sugar consumption they would improve overall well-being. They were also told that by reducing the consumption of soft drinks they would improve their dental health.

To help the children, who ranged in age from 7 to 11 years old, understand the concepts, the sessions also included:

Fruit tastings to help the children learn about sweetness of natural products,

  • Experiments with a tooth immersed in sweetened soda to study the effect on dental health,

  • A music competition to produce a song or rap with a healthy message, and

  • A classroom quiz based on a popular TV game show.

After the intervention, the study showed that the average number of carbonated beverages the children drank over three days decreased by more than half a glass (0.6) per day among those who participated in the session, but drinks increased by 0.2 glasses among the comparison group.

Consumption of water also increased during the study among both groups.

At the end of the study, the percentage of overweight and obese children increased in the comparison group by 7.6% vs. a decrease of 0.2% in the intervention group.

Researchers say the findings suggest that for most people, obesity still remains preventable.

"Our intervention was simple, involved no teacher training, and could easily be implemented by a health educator working in several schools," write researcher Janet James, a diabetes development nurse at the Bournemouth Diabetes and Endocrine Centre in Dorset, England, and colleagues.

Fifteen classes took part in the program and 14 others served as a comparison group.