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Harvard/Yale study links teen obesity to sugary beverages

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27 2012 8:45 a.m. MDT

Pearl Ganotisi eats her meal in an American hamburger chain in Manila, Philippines. (Associated Press) Pearl Ganotisi eats her meal in an American hamburger chain in Manila, Philippines. (Associated Press)

New research validates the word of doctors and health advocates who warn that sugar-sweetened beverages play a significant role in the obesity epidemic.

"Calories from sugar-sweetened beverages do matter," Yale University endocrinologist Sonia Caprio wrote in an editorial that accompanied the studies. "The time has come to take action."

The study, by Harvard and Yale researchers, looked at 224 overweight and obese ninth- and tenth-graders who drank either a 12-ounce sugary drink or 100 percent fruit juice on a daily basis.

Researchers split the students into two groups, one which received a delivery of noncaloric beverages such as flavored-water, diet drinks or water every two weeks for one full year.

The other group received no noncaloric drinks, but were given a $50 gift card to a supermarket at intervals during the study, with no instructions on what to buy with the card.

Protester Eric Moore sips on an extra-large beverage during a protest against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to prohibit licensed food establishments from using containers larger than 16 ounces to serve high-calorie drinks at City Hall in New York, Monday, July 9, 2012.  (Kathy Willens, Associated Press) Protester Eric Moore sips on an extra-large beverage during a protest against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to prohibit licensed food establishments from using containers larger than 16 ounces to serve high-calorie drinks at City Hall in New York, Monday, July 9, 2012. (Kathy Willens, Associated Press)

The researchers were testing to determine whether or not changing a teen's household environment to carry fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, with no behavioral intervention, would have an effect on weight.

It turns out that simply swapping the drinks in the home for healthy beverages helped, CBS News reported. "After statistically ruling out other demographics so the only difference between groups would be sugary drink intake, teens who had the noncaloric deliveries gained an average of four fewer pounds over the course of a year than soda drinkers in the control group."

The study was published online Friday by the New England Journal of Medicine,

The new study comes at the crest of an ongoing debate, the Wall Street Journal reported. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is preparing to impose a ban on the sale of sugary beverages in containers larger than 16 ounces in movie theaters, restaurants and other venues in the city.

This Thursday, May 31, 2012 file photo shows a display of various size soft drink cups next to stacks of sugar cubes at a news conference at New York's City Hall. (Associated Press) This Thursday, May 31, 2012 file photo shows a display of various size soft drink cups next to stacks of sugar cubes at a news conference at New York's City Hall. (Associated Press)

The findings "provide a strong impetus to develop recommendations and policy decisions to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages," Sonia Caprio, a professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The new studies unleashed a storm of objection from Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., described by the Los Angeles Times as the "icons of a $110-billion-a-year industry whose products have penetrated the remotest corners of the earth."

"Sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving obesity," the American Beverage Assn., which represents the soda makers, said in a statement released Friday. "By every measure, sugar-sweetened beverages play a small and declining role in the American diet."

The beverage ban goes into effect March 12. The ban only applies to drinks that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounces, USA Today noted. It does not include beverages with more than 50 percent milk or 100 percent juice drinks.

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