BOSTON -- Three studies published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine lend increasing credibility to a direct link between weight gain and consumption of sugary drinks like soda and fruit drinks.
Consumption of such drinks has more than doubled since the 1970s, and the rate of obesity among Americans during the same period reached 30% of the adult population, according to researchers in one of the studies.
Two of the studies showed that providing children and adolescents calorie-free drinks resulted in weight loss. The first, conducted at Boston Children's Hospital, examined 224 overweight adolescents who eliminated sugar-sweetened beverages for one year. The program included home deliveries of bottled water and non-sugary drinks, monthly motivational telephone calls with the parents and "check-in" visits with the teens. These teens gained only 1 lb., 7 ozs. on average compared with 3 lbs. 5 ozs. average weight gain for those in a control group that consumed sugary drinks.
A similar study conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam involved 641 children aged 4 to 11. Half of the group drank sweet and fruity drinks while the other half drank the same drinks with sugarless sweeteners.
After 18 months, children who consumed the low-calorie drinks gained approximately 14 lbs. on average compared with about 16.24 lbs. over that time in the group that drank sugary fruit drinks.
The third study analyzed three cohorts of over 33,000 men and women of European ancestry and found that among people who are genetically predisposed to obesity, greater consumption of sugary beverages leads to a higher body mass index (BMI).
"Taken together, these three studies suggest that calories from sugar-sweetened beverages do matter," said Dr. Sonia Caprio of Yale University, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine. "These randomized, controlled studies ... provide a strong impetus to develop recommendations and policy decisions to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, especially those served at low cost and in excessive portions, to attempt to reverse the increase in childhood obesity."