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The Real Connection between Sugary Beverages and Obesity

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page and our Health Issues page.

There is no shortage of research linking excessive sugar consumption with obesity, and the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages appears to have a particularly strong link.

It was five years ago when UCLA researchers found that adults who drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.

Even those who only drank soda occasionally had a 15 percent greater risk, and a growing number of studies have linked rising childhood obesity rates to increased consumption of sugary beverages as well.

Still, as a general rule the beverage industry has denied or strongly downplayed its role in the childhood and adult obesity epidemics. At times, they have even presented research that appears to back up their argument. But the story has another layer, thanks to a new paper published in PLOS Medicine.

This meta-analysis of systematic reviews reveals that, as is often the case with pharmaceutical research, beverage industry-funded research is much more likely to produce results that favor the industry.

Research Funded by the Beverage Industry Often Finds No Connection Between Sugary Beverages and Obesity

Researchers reviewed 17 papers (with 18 conclusions) and found that 11 of them supported a significant link between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain or obesity. They then reviewed them based on whether or not the authors reported any conflicts of interest  and here's where things got interesting.

Among studies with no conflict of interest, 10 out of 12 supported the association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity or weight gain. Among studies with industry support, 5 out of 6 found no association.

In other words, in studies without industry support, 83 percent linked sugary beverages with weight gain. But in studies with industry support, 83 percent found no link at all.         


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