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Reducing Sugary Drinks Could Reduce Obesity

Recent studies have shown that, for some people, limiting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages leads to weight loss or reduced weight gain. Over the past few decades, the prevalence of obesity has increased significantly, leading many researchers to seek behavioral changes that might have played a causal role in the development of this public health epidemic. During that time, a dramatic rise in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as some sodas, and sports, energy, and juice drinks, has paralleled the rise in obesity. Based on this observation, many scientists believe that sugar-sweetened beverage intake has contributed to the obesity epidemic and could be a potential target behavior for obesity prevention intervention strategies—an idea that was tested in a series of recent studies.

In one study, researchers sought to determine if genetics could influence whether sugar-sweetened beverage consumption affects risk for obesity. The scientists took advantage of existing data sets, collected as a part of three large-scale health surveys, which included physical, behavioral, and other characteristics from more than 30,000 U.S. men and women of European ancestry. They examined variations within 32 regions of each person’s genome, which previous analyses have shown to be associated with body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight relative to height). The three health surveys also detailed sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, allowing the researchers to tease apart any association between these genetic and behavioral factors in obesity risk. The combined results from all three surveys were significant and clear: for individuals with many genetic risk variants predisposing them to obesity, there was a relatively greater association between consuming sugar-sweetened beverages and subsequent increases in BMI, particularly at higher levels of consumption.

In another study, researchers examined the effects in adolescents of an intervention substituting sugar-sweetened beverages with non-caloric beverages in their homes. The study included overweight and obese teenagers who regularly consumed sugar-sweetened beverages. For 1 year, participants received an intervention strategy designed to reduce intake of sugar-sweetened beverages in their homes: delivery of non-caloric beverages, motivational telephone calls with their parents, and periodic check-in visits. At the end of the year, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was significantly reduced compared with a control group that did not receive the intervention. In addition, BMI increased less in the intervention group than in the control group during the intervention. A year after the intervention stopped, there was no longer a difference between groups overall in BMI, but Hispanic adolescents from the intervention group still showed less of a BMI increase. These results add to previous data suggesting a link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and excess weight gain, which may be greater in some individuals.