Sugary drinks a weight culprit


No one nagged or hounded. No one took the chips away, locked down the vending machines or foisted carrots and broccoli on anyone.

Instead, researchers in Massachusetts focused on just one piece of the childhood obesity puzzle - sugar-sweetened drinks. Their study, published in last month's issue of the journal Pediatrics, showed for the first time that simply cutting back on sugary drinks can reduce body fat.

Scientists made it easy for the teens, ages 13 to 18, who altered their behavior for the study. A supermarket chain delivered weekly shipments of the teens' preferred beverages, enough for four servings a day for the participants plus two extra servings for each additional family member to avoid fights.

Half of the 103 teenage volunteers continued to drink as normal. Normal for the entire group before the study began was 2.5 servings of soda, fruit juices, sports drinks, lemonade or other sweetened drinks, or about 375 calories worth a day. The other half got to choose any kind of noncaloric drink they wanted - water, diet sodas or no-calorie juice drinks.

Periodically, researchers would call the teens receiving noncaloric drinks with a pep talk. "We called to see how the deliveries were going, to ask if they had questions or if they wanted to change their beverage order," says Cara Ebbeling, nutrition researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston and lead author of the study. Every time the subjects opened their refrigerators, they would see a magnet saying, "Think before you drink."

After six months, volunteers in the control group had gained a little weight. The no-sugar-drinks group wasn't perfect, but members did cut their consumption of sweetened drinks by 82 percent - and lost a modest amount of weight.

Susan Brink writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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