The relationship between sugary beverages and obesity has been hotly contested over the past few months as new policies have been put into effect to decrease the consumption of these beverages. Now a decades-long study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, involving over 33,000 Americans has finally been released, asserting that soda and other sugary beverages actually have a profound effect on obesity.
The results of this study show that drinking sugary beverages does in fact interact with the genes that affect weight, and increase the likelihood of obesity from heredity alone. For people with genes with a high risk factor for obesity (most people have at least a few of these genes), sugary beverages can be especially harmful. The study also strongly suggested that sugary drinks cause people to gain weight independently of other unhealthy behaviors like overeating and lack of exercise.
Previously experiments have been inconclusive in determining the effects of sugary beverages. In one of the new studies research randomly assigned over 200 obese or overweight high schoolers in Boston to receive shipments every two weeks of either sugary drinks or their sugar-free alternatives. The kids were aware of the beverages they were drinking, and made no efforts to curb their eating or exercise schedules. The results showed that after one year the sugar-free group weighed four pounds less on average than the group which continued drinking sugary beverages.
This directly demonstrated that sugar-free drinks do lead to less weight gain, and people can satisfy their cravings for sugary beverages with these substitutes. A second study in the Netherlands involved 641 normal-weight children between the ages of 4 and 12, who regularly drank sugary beverages. The children were randomly assigned sugary or sugar-free beverages at school, and were not told what kind of beverage they were drinking. After eighteen months the sugary-drink group weighed two pounds more on average than the other group.
The American Beverage Association was not so easily convinced by the findings of these studies. “Obesity is not uniquely caused by any single food or beverage,” it commented in a statement. “Studies and opinion pieces that focus solely on sugar-sweetened beverages, or any other single source of calories, do nothing meaningful to help address this serious issue.”
Since the 1970’s consumption of sugary beverages in the U.S. have more than doubled, same as the U.S. obesity rates. Sugary drinks are currently the biggest source of calories in the American diet, and they may be accountable for the obesity epidemic that affects a third of U.S. children and over two-thirds of adults.
“I know of no other single food product whose elimination can produce this degree of weight change,” said the study’s leader, Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.
In the wake of Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban in New York City, evidence like this will undoubtedly affect how other cities choose to address this obesity problem.
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