Get ready to pick your jaws up off the floor, my friends, because a series of studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine are about to challenge everything you thought you knew about health, wellness, and obesity. Kidding! They actually indicate exactly what you’d expect: That soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are probably pretty big contributors to America’s sizable weight problem.
Three different studies are all published in the journal, each addressing a different problem with soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice, and other sugary, nutritionally-poor beverages. But two really stand out. Together, they provide a comprehensive look at the problem with liquid calories–both in normal-weight kids, and in those who are genetically predisposed to being overweight or obese.
First, a double-blind study which looked at what intervening–i.e., reducing the consumption of sugary beverages–could achieve in children who were normal weight, overweight, and obese. That study, which also measured sugar content in the urine, found that “the results clearly suggest that masked replacement of a sugar-containing beverage (104 kcal) with a sugar-free beverage significantly reduced weight gain and fat accumulation in normal-weight children.”
And second, there’s a study that examines children who are genetically predisposed to obesity, and what excessive consumption of sugary drinks does to their bodies. Basically, it looked at how nature and nurture interact. The finding? According to the Journal, “participants with a greater genetic predisposition may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on obesity; this is a clear example of gene–environment interaction.”
Of course, as we’ve discussed at length, simply being overweight doesn’t mean a person lives an unhealthy lifestyle or guzzles soda, nor does being thin preclude individuals from myriad health problems as a result of their sugar habits and sedentary lifestyles. But the fact–and this is true–that Americans, and specifically, our children, are getting fatter and not healthier. The kind of obesity that we’re seeing among children isn’t because husky kids are built that way. It’s because children are drinking soda and other sugary drinks (like energy and sports drinks) and eating terrible junk food in schools.
These studies, together, can hopefully help to shake the soda lobby’s firm grip on schools and sports events (because, of course, Pepsi and Coca-Cola own sports drinks and energy drinks, too), by showing that all of their wares really are harmful to children. Students have, after all, been drinking less soda–but they’ve been replacing it with Gatorade and other, equally sugary drinks.
Image by Flickr user eddie.welker