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Study Suggests Sugary Drinks May Not Fuel Weight Gain

January 1, 2010

A new report suggests that studies reporting a link between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain have garnered a lot of attention but research on the issue has actually yielded mixed results, Reuters reported.

Dr. Mark A. Pereira, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and an author on the report, told Reuters Health that the purported link between soft drinks and other beverages and obesity risk is unclear and complicated, especially in youth.

Research from Pereira and colleagues found no link between weight gain over 5 years and teens’ drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Pereira’s team assessed diet, lifestyle, and weight in 2,294 ethnically-diverse boys and girls in the Minneapolis/St. Paul school system, according to the report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study showed that 1,289 teens around 15 years of age reported drinking 7 or more servings of white milk weekly, while 1,456 said they drank sugar-sweetened punch and 1,325 said they drank sugary soft drinks up to 6 times a week.

Around 1,300 of these teens said they also drank up to 6 servings of apple juice or orange juice weekly.

However, over a 5-year period, after allowing for other behaviors tied to beverage drinking habits and weight status, there was no overall association between consumption of sweetened beverages and the teens’ weight gain.

In fact, drinking little or no white milk was tied to greater gains in body mass index (BMI); while drinking white milk nearly every day or more often seemed tied to lesser BMI gains, Pereira and colleagues found.

BMI — calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared — is a standard way to determine how fat or thin a person is.

The team also noted an association between diet soft drink intake and greater weight gain, but Pereira noted that particular finding appeared to be explained by overall dieting practices, rather than diet soda drinking.

Pereira said the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity risk in youth may be weaker than they had been led to believe by individual high-profile studies.

He and his colleagues suggested further large-scale, well-conducted investigations for more clarity on the topic in the future.

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