Friday, April 17, 2009

New Evidence on Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., regular soda, sports drinks, fruit punches/drinks) are a major source of calories for most Americans, particularly teenagers. On any given day, 80% of teenagers and 63% of adults consume such beverages, adding about 300 unnecessary calories to their daily caloric intake. 300 calories may not sound like much, but burning off those calories would require a 30-minute jog. Coupling high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with low rates of physical activity and it is no wonder Americans are becoming obese.

People who drink sugary beverages are at greater risk for obesity and diabetes. It seems intuitive that reducing consumption of such drinks should lead to weight loss. However, there hadn’t been conclusive data to support that idea. An article in the April 1 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has provided that crucial evidence. This randomized multi-center study showed that study participants that reduced their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages lost weight over the short- and long-term. Participants did not lose weight when they changed consumption of other types of beverages. Even more interesting was that participants lost more weight by reducing liquid calories than by reducing calories obtained from food.

Interventions to help Americans cut back on sugary drinks are greatly needed. Soft drink taxes are becoming popular to both increase state revenue and potentially curb consumption. Although it is well-known that higher tobacco taxes lead people to consume less tobacco, there isn’t much published data yet on whether soft drink taxes significantly reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Despite this lack of data, soft drink taxes could generate huge amounts of money for obesity-prevention programs if that revenue was directed to a special fund instead of into the general treasury. Complementary interventions include policies removing sugary drinks from vending machines in schools and workplaces, and behavioral interventions to promote healthy eating.

- Alyson Hazen Kristensen, MPH

Senior Fellow and Program Officer


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