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Be aware of soft drink advertising
Soft drinks are pervasive in American culture and it's clear that the increase in their consumption since 1960 coincides with the widening of the American waistline. A single 12-ounce soft drink, consumed daily, has been associated with a 60% increase in a child's risk of obesity. In fact, at least 56% of school-age American children consume at least one soft drink per day. Adolescent males drink the most: 20% of them drink four or more soft drinks daily.

Sugary Soft Drinks Linked to Adolescent Overweight
A study in Germany looked at the types of beverages that children between the ages of 9 and 18 consumed and correlated that amount with the change in their Body Mass Index between the two ages (Brit J Nutr 2008; 99:1370-1379).

Women, Soft Drinks, and Stroke
In a study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition(2012;96(6):1390-7), researchers in Japan noted that those studies that looked at the association between heart disease and soft drinks were mostly done on women. That said, the effects of soft drinks on cholesterol levels and other metabolic markers seem to be stronger in women than in men. 


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Drinking Sugary Beverages Makes You Gain Weight

tops of soda cans

Drinking too many sugar-sweetened soft drinks has been linked to overweight and obesity along with such chronic illnesses as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, gout, gallstones, and kidney disease. Research attempting to directly link sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas and sweetened fruit drinks to weight gain have been questioned because other factors can affect weight other than the beverages you drink.

That said, a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and the National University of Singapore performed a review and meta-analysis of existing studies in an effort to overcome the issue of other dietary and lifestyle factors (Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98(4):1084-1102). They began by identifying over 9,800 research articles on the subject - of which only 32 were suitable for inclusion in their study. These 32 included 15 studies in children that included between 140 and over 11,000 boys and girls and lasted between 6 months and 14 years. The studies in adults included between 170 and 120,000 participants and lasted a minimum of 1 year, ranging all the way up to 20 years.

After standardizing and analyzing all of the data from the prospective studies (studies that follow people over time), the researchers found that a 1 serving per day increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was associated with a 0.06-unit increase in Body Mass Index per year in children and a weight gain of 1/4 to 1/2 pound per year in adults. Trials in children that focused on substituting other beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages showed that those substitutions led to a smaller increase in the children's Body Mass Index over the course of the study.

What this means for you

If you are working on your weight and drink sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, bottled coffee drinks, fruit drinks, or bottled sweetened iced teas, take a good hard look at your habit. I tell my patients to either switch to non-caloric drinks or (and even better) start drinking water, tea, or coffee exclusively.

First posted: October 9, 2013