Studies: Calories from Soft Drinks Directly Contribute to Obesity

Soft Drinks Contribute to Obesity

image: New England Journal of Medicine

The soft drink industry is under pressure. New York recently authorized a law to limit the portion size of soft drinks sold in movie theaters and restaurants. More regulation and limitations are expected across the nation in the coming months and years.

Although many Americans are frightened by the potential for a “nanny state” forming here, supporters of these public healthy policy measures deem them as necessary to protect consumers from obesity related disease. With 200 million Americans overweight or obese, perhaps they are right.

The American Beverage Association, a trade group representing Coca Cola and PepsiCo, states that only 7% of our daily calories come from soft drinks, and therefore the current obesity pandemic cannot be pinned on cola. The industry is fighting vehemently to protect its sales and astronomical profit margins (selling sugar water has higher margins than almost any other business in the world).

However, several new studies, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine this weekend, point to a direct connection between sugary drink consumption and obesity in children.

1. In a trial in the Netherlands, six hundred school children were given an unmarked can of juice drink to consume daily, for 18 months. Some received cans with caloric sweetener, others with artificial sweetener. The ones with the zero calorie cans gained 13.9 lbs vs 16.2  lbs by the kids who drank the 100 calories worth daily.  We’re not very happy about the artificial sweetener, but the point here is that the kids drinking caloric beverages gained 16% more weight. In just a year and a half!

2. Stateside, at Boston Children’s Hospital, home deliveries of bottled water and zero calorie drinks were made to several hundred teenagers. They were also encouraged to consume less sugary drinks. When compared to a similar group of peers, the home delivery group gained only 3.5 lbs compared to 7.7 lbs gained by the control group.

The bottom line for parents: take steps to assure your kids drink as much water as possible! Leave the sugary drinks for special occasions, and treat them like a snack, not as a hydration solution.

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  • Kevin

    “The American Beverage Association, a trade group representing Coca Cola
    and PepsiCo, states that only 7% of our daily calories come from soft
    drinks, and therefore the current obesity pandemic cannot be pinned on
    cola.”

    There are two problems with this statement:

    1. That number is based on the population, not based on soda consumers. People like me, who don’t drink soda, bring down that average quite a bit. For soda consumers, that percentage would be significantly higher. I also would be interested in the soda drinking habits of those who are not overweight versus those who are. I would imagine that they would be polar opposites, which is what we are interested in; not the average of the two. It would be like saying that the country doesn’t have an alcohol abuse problem because people only have a drink a day, when the reality of the situation may be that many people abstain and those who drink end up drinking 5 a day (numbers used here are hypothetical). Context is everything.

    2. For someone who is maintaining, an increase of calories by %7 would cause significant weight gain. For someone like me who can maintain on 2500-3000 calories a day, an increase of 7% would cause about 20 pounds of weight gain in a year. While 7% may seem small, it is still significant. While the additional soda consumption may be offset by eating more, the lack of any ingredient (besides water, which is what you would be switching to) that increases satiety makes that hypothesis not very compelling.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Very good points. Thanks for the math, Kevin!

  • James Cooper

    It is important to note that this study also again proves that artificially sweetened drinks DO NOT cause weight gain.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Actually, the kids in both groups did gain weight. That said, at least some should be attributed to the natural growth expected of kids.