Will Sugary Drinks Push Your Child Towards Obesity?

Not one, but three studies have recently been published that suggest that sugary drinks, including fruit juices, can put your child’s wellbeing at risk of weight gain – especially if obesity is in your genes.


The first study was led by Lu Qi, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, who found that if you have a high genetic risk of obesity, drinking sugar-sweetened drinks, including fruit punches, lemonades, or other fruit drinks, may amplify the genetic effects on your weight. Though the evidence for sugary drinks’ weight causing consequences is already strong, Qi’s team specifically looked at whether the effect of sugary drinks differs depending your genetic risk for obesity.


They calculated a genetic-risk-for-obesity score for over 33,000 people and for every 10 points on the genetic risk score (on a scale of 1-64) those who had the fewest sugary drinks, of less than one a month, still had a 35% higher risk of obesity. Qi found that those who had the most sugary drinks, one or more a day, had a 235% higher risk of obesity. Therefore, Qi observed ‘If you reduce your intake of sugary beverages, your genetic risk of obesity may be lessened’.


For the second study, 641 children, aged 4-11, were given a daily drink of either an 8-ounce sugar-free drink or an 8-ounce sugary drink for 18 months. This was conducted by Martijn B. Katan, PhD, emeritus professor of nutrition at VU University in Amsterdam, who found that the children who drank the sugar-free drink gained less fat and fewer pounds. However, though the children who drank the sugary drink gained about 16 pounds, those who drank the sugar-free drink weren’t far behind, as they gained about 14 pounds. Yet Katan says this is not an insignificant difference, as the size of the drink studied is far below the daily average in the US, for example, ‘With average consumption, you could be talking in the United States, say, about [a difference of] 5.5 pounds.’


The third study looked at teenagers, and only encouraged half of their regular-sugary-drinking 224 overweight or obese teens to drink fewer sugary drinks during a one-year programme. The other half weren’t told to reduce their sugary drink intake at all, and all were followed for an additional year. The researchers, from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard, found that the rise in BMI was smaller in the first group after one year, even after making just this one change.


David Appel, MD, the director of the Montefiore Medical Centre School Health Programme and associate professor of clinical paediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says that ‘These three studies give very clear evidence that drinking sweetened beverages even in modest amounts clearly results in increased weight and excess weight’.

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