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Studies expand on soda's role in growing obesity

New studies make a direct link between sugary drinks and added weight, showing that removing such beverages slows weight gain in heavy teens and reduces the odds of obesity in other children.

September 21, 2012|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

Latino teens who were overweight or obese showed particularly strong and enduring benefits from switching to calorie-free beverages: After one year, they were an average of 14 pounds lighter than their peers who didn't change their drinking habits, and after two years they were 20 pounds lighter.

"For certain populations, paying attention to these relatively simple things, such as sugar-sweetened beverage intake, can really have an impact," said Dr. David M. Harlan, a leading expert on obesity and diabetes at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The third study, which linked regular consumption of sugary drinks with genetic differences in adults, may lend support to a growing belief on the part of obesity researchers that some calories matter more than others. While an individual's weight may be determined by comparing calories consumed and calories expended, some experts believe calories from particular sources — including super-sweetened drinks — may have effects beyond the simple units of energy they contain, Harlan said.

The findings, presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society in San Antonio, come as momentum builds for a raft of controversial measures that aim to drive down consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

Last week, the New York City Board of Health voted to implement a ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces at 24,000 restaurants, snack bars, movie theaters and sports arenas.

In June, the American Medical Assn. broke a years-long silence and called taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages one effective method of improving health and reducing consumption of the high-calorie drinks. The American Heart Assn. has already endorsed such taxes, and Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has called taxes "the single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic."

The Obama administration and about 30 state legislatures have considered levying sales taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, prompting beverage manufacturers to spend $60 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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