March 26, 2007
People who drink sugary soft drinks
do not appear to compensate by reducing calories
somewhere else in their diets, so they tend to pack on
extra pounds, Yale University researchers report
Their work, published in April's
American Journal of Public Health, is based on
what's called a meta-analysis of 88 soda studies. The
bottom line: People who drink sugary sodas consume more
calories in a typical day than those who don't.
This adds to the growing body of
evidence that these drinks are contributing to the
nation's obesity crisis. A separate review of 30
studies, released in August by the Harvard School of
Public Health, also found that soft drinks and other
sugary beverages contribute to weight gain.
Although these two research
papers may seem to state the obvious, experts have been
debating the topic for years. On one side are nutrition
researchers who say soft drinks add weight because they
are high in calories and don't make people feel full and
On the other side are other
researchers and beverage industry representatives who
say people can enjoy all kinds of drinks as part of a
healthful diet. They say many things contribute to
weight gain, including sedentary lifestyles.
This issue is particularly
important as schools re-evaluate what they offer in
their vending machines.
Other findings from the Yale
• Soda drinkers consume less milk
and have slightly lower intakes of calcium.
• Soda studies funded by the
industry are more likely to downplay any concerns about
"There is compelling evidence
that soft drinks have negative effects, and so actions
such as stopping their sale in schools and scaling back
marketing to children are justified," says senior
scientist Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center
for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.
Brownell says a 20-ounce cola
contains 15 teaspoons of sugar. He says schools need to
be smart and not replace sodas with sports drinks, which
are also high in calories. For instance, a 12-ounce can
of ginger ale has about 140 calories; a 12-ounce bottle
of lemon-lime Gatorade has 90 calories.
Richard Forshee, director of
research for the Center for Food, Nutrition and
Agriculture Policy at the University of Maryland, says
there have been three other recent reviews that found
weak evidence of a link between soft drinks and weight
"The association that may exist
is not large," he says. "Calories do matter, and soft
drinks have calories, so you need to drink them in
moderation and as part of a balanced diet."
Richard Adamson, a scientific
consultant for the American Beverage Association, says
another large international study, not mentioned in the
Brownell review paper, showed no association between
soda consumption in youth and weight gain. If you don't
expend the calories you consume, it can result in weight
gain, no matter where those calories come from, he says.
"It's not what's in the can — whether it's juice, soft
drinks or milk — it's what's on the couch."
Barry Popkin of the University of
North Carolina says this new study should help schools
decide what to offer students. "What we need in school
vending machines are water, skim milk and 1%-fat milk."
He advises school districts to
stop stocking vending machines and school stores with
sodas, sports drinks and flavored, sweetened milks. "All
of these provide excessive extra calories and feed our
growing child and adolescent obesity problem," he says.
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