Childhood Obesity and Soft Drinks
Children may lower their risk of becoming overweight or obese by drinking fewer carbonated beverages, reports a study in the British Medical Journal (2004;328:1237–40).
About 15% of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese. The prevalence of childhood obesity is increasing, despite heightened public awareness of the dangers associated with being overweight. Obesity contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain cancers, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, and liver and gallbladder disease. Once considered a disease of adulthood, type 2 diabetes is now commonly seen in overweight children.
Consuming refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, white flour, and corn syrup, is linked to excess weight gain. Foods high in these ingredients are calorie-dense, and excess calories are stored as fat, leading to weight gain. Carbonated beverages sweetened with sugar or corn syrup may contribute a significant amount of calories from refined sugars. People who drink one 12-ounce sweetened carbonated beverage per day are consuming an average of 10% more calories than people who don’t drink soda.
The new study examined the impact of an educational program designed to decrease carbonated beverage consumption on the incidence of obesity in childhood. Six hundred forty-four school children aged 7 to 11 years took part in the program. The children were randomly assigned to receive either (1) an intervention program focusing on nutrition for four one-hour sessions over a period of one year, or (2) no intervention (control group). The program advocated a healthful, balanced diet, while discouraging the consumption of “fizzy” drinks. The students were told that decreasing sugar intake would increase overall well being and benefit their dental health. All participating students completed diaries at the beginning of the study and after one year, reporting the number of sodas consumed over three days. The following measurements were taken from the participants at the beginning of the study, at six months, and after one year: height, weight, waist circumference, and body mass index (a measure of obesity).
After one year, there was a 38% increase in the number of overweight and obese children in the control group and a 1% decrease in the education-intervention group. Carbonated drink consumption decreased significantly in the intervention group and water consumption increased in both groups.
Eliminating carbonated beverages is an easy way to reduce refined carbohydrates in the diet. Public health policies that limit the availability of soft drinks and processed foods in schools may result in a lower prevalence of childhood obesity.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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