Federal health officials target sugary drinks as largest driver of obesity epidemic

The Boston Globe is reporting that, according to federal disease investigators, “the cost of treating obesity has doubled in the past decade,” and “sugar-laden beverages” are “a prime culprit.” So, what’s this mean to you? Could this story lead to a “first step” for you and your family to lose weight?

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In fact, “unlike other approaches that require dramatic lifestyle changes … switching to less sugary beverages is viewed as a straightforward way to lower weight and, possibly, decrease the most common form of diabetes.”

Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Boston Globe this approach “should be the cornerstone of public-health strategies to reduce obesity and prevent type 2 diabetes.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims “sugar-sweetened beverages … may be the single-largest driver of the obesity epidemic.”

Although there are likely very many causes to the current obesity epidemic, causes likely include the popularization of the low fat diet, the increasingly sedentary lifestyles of westerners, and also the fact that the consumption of calories in liquid form increased in parallel with the obesity epidemic.
A research study prompted by the latter theory, namely the increase in the intake of calories in liquid form, was published earlier this year by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The objective of this study was to determine exactly how changes in the consumption of liquid calories affect weight change among adults. The results of the study were conclusive. What you drink may be even more important than what you eat if you want to lose weight!
Obviously the researchers had to be very careful to reduce the effects of so many other variables on the weight of an adult to isolate the impact of the beverages.
The study was conducted over a period of 18 months, and 810 adults participated. Measurements of dietary intake, weight and height were made at baseline, 6 months, and at 18 months. The measurement of the dietary intake of participants throughout the course of the trial was done by conducting unannounced 24 hour dietary recalls via the telephone.
For the purposes of this study, researchers divided beverages into several categories based on calorie content and nutritional composition. These categories were:
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit punch, or high-calorie beverages sweetened with sugar)
  • Diet drinks (diet soda and other “diet” drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners)
  • Milk (whole milk, 2 percent reduced-fat milk, 1 percent low-fat milk, and skim milk)
  • 100 percent juice (100 percent fruit and vegetable juice)
  • Coffee and tea with sugar
  • Coffee and tea without sugar
  • Alcoholic beverages.

The average intake of liquid calories at the start of the trial was 356 kcal per day, accounting for approximately 19% of the total average energy intake.

After all of the other factors that may impact on the accuracy of the results were accounted for, a reduction in liquid calorie intake of 100 kcal per day was associated with a weight loss of 0.55 pounds at 6 months and of 0.65 pounds at 18 months.

While these numbers may sound unimpressive, remember that the aim here was not to have people lose large numbers on the scales; it was to test the impact of small changes in the intake of liquid calories only.

It was also found that a reduction in liquid calorie intake had a greater effect than did a reduction in solid calorie intake on weight loss. Now this is interesting!

When we go on a diet, or start watching what we eat, our focus areas are invariably on what we eat and not on what we drink! This finding also may help to explain why some people, even though they eat relatively little and healthy, still have major weight issues!

The liquid calories are forgotten more often than not.

And now for the good news for those of us that love our tea, coffee, fruit juice, and wine. Of the different beverages tested, it was only the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) that was significantly associated with weight change.

A reduction in SSB intake of 1 serving per day resulted in with a weight loss of 1.1 pounds at 6 months and 1.4 pounds at 18 months.

So it appears that we can enjoy all our favorite beverages (in moderation of course) as long as no additional sugar has been added.

This study, called “Reduction in Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages is Associated with Weight Loss: The PREMIER Trial” by Liwei Chen et al, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For more great tips for you and your family to become more fit consider reading my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat.

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