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Study: Soft drinking teens pile on pounds and obesity

07 march 2006 - 16:32

Read the full study in the journal Pediatrics here

Soft drinking teens pile on pounds. According to a study released Monday, the number of overweight children is on the rise worldwide and by the end of the decade the number of overweight children will have caused a strain on our health system as they age. It is estimated that just under half of the children in North and South America will be overweight by 2010, up from about 28%. In Europe, about 38% of the children will be overweight, compared to 25% currently.

Dr. James said researchers had analyzed reports from 1980 to 2005 as well as World Health Organization data. They found data for trends over time covering school-age populations in 25 countries and preschool-age children in 42 countries.

In the drinks study, a team at Boston's Children's Hospital monitored the weight of 103 teenagers, putting half of them on unsweetened or artificially-sweetened drinks and letting the other half continue to consume sugary drinks. They concluded that a single 330ml can a day of sweetened drinks could lead teens to put on 1lb every three or four weeks.

Children's intake of sugar-sweetened drinks -- sodas, sports drinks, "juice drinks," iced teas, lemonades and punches -- has surged in recent decades, in step with the rise in childhood obesity. Now, in the March issue of Pediatrics, researchers from Children's Hospital Boston report that a novel intervention to limit consumption of sugary drinks -- home deliveries of noncaloric beverages -- had a beneficial effect on weight loss.

The randomized, controlled trial, led by Cara Ebbeling, PhD, and David Ludwig, MD, PhD, in the hospital's Division of Endocrinology, enrolled 103 children aged 13 to 18 through a Boston area high school. The teens were offered a $100 mall gift certificate if they stuck with the six-month study, and all did.

Half the teens, picked at random, received weekly deliveries of noncaloric beverages of their own choosing -- bottled waters and artificially-sweetened drinks. They were instructed to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and advised on how to choose noncaloric drinks outside the home. Monthly phone calls and refrigerator magnets ("Think Before You Drink") provided reminders. The remaining teens, serving as a control group, were asked to continue their usual eating and drinking patterns.

At the end of six months, the group receiving beverage deliveries had an 82 percent reduction in consumption of sugary drinks, while intake in the control group remained unchanged. The heavier the teen was initially, the stronger the effect on body weight. Among the heaviest one-third of teens, the beverage-delivery group had a marked decrease in body mass index (BMI), while the control group had a slight increase -- a group-to-group difference of almost 1 pound per month. Other factors affecting obesity -- physical activity levels and television viewing -- did not change in either group.

Ebbeling calculates that a single 12-oz sugar-sweetened beverage per day translates to about 1 pound of weight gain over 3 to 4 weeks. "Sugary beverages have no nutritional value and seem to make a huge contribution to weight gain," she says.

Comprehensive weight-loss programs often do not have a substantial effect on body weight, Ebbeling adds. "People often get overwhelmed by nutrition advice and give up," she says. "We opted to study one simple, potentially high-impact behavior, and made it easy for adolescents to replace sugary drinks with noncaloric beverages."

Although the intervention targeted only the home environment, previous research suggests that home is where adolescents get the majority of their food and beverages. "It should be relatively simple to translate this intervention into a pragmatic public health approach," the authors comment. "For example, schools could make noncaloric beverages available to students by purchasing large quantities at low costs."

The study was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Charles H. Hood Foundation.

Ebbeling and Ludwig are now starting a larger study that will seek to enroll 240 overweight students at multiple schools in greater Boston. Coinvestigators include Henry Feldman, PhD and Stavroula Osganian, MD, ScD, MPH, of Children's Clinical Research Program and Virginia Chomitz, PhD, from the Institute for Community Health in Cambridge, Mass.

Dr Philip James, the chairperson of the International Obesity Task Force said that “we have truly a global epidemic which appears to be affecting most countries in the world.” “The rest of the world is facing an increase in overweight children as well. Rates of overweight children are expected to rise significantly in the Middle East and Latin America as well as in Southeast Asia and the west Pacific. Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Egypt have rates comparable to the fully industrialized countries in the world”, Dr James said.

The outcome doctors say, is that the next generation will have shorter lives than their parents !! Because overweight children tend to carry the problem into adulthood, they will tend to be sicker as they get older, suffering from heart disease, stroke and other ailments related to being overweight.

International Obesity Task Force chairman Dr Philip James said: "We have truly a global epidemic which appears to be affecting most countries in the world."

Researchers on the obesity task force study said they expected the weight increases to have profound impacts on everything from public health care to economies.

This study was published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity. The International Journal of Pediatric Obesity is a new, peer-reviewed, quarterly journal devoted to research into obesity during childhood and adolescence. The topic is currently at the centre of intense interest in the scientific community, and is of increasing concern to health policy-makers and the public at large.

Obesity, the physical factors contributing to excess body fat in adolescents include the following : increased insulin levels ; elevated lipid and lipoprotein levels ; elevated blood pressure Behavioral and other factors contributing to a positive energy balance stored as fat over long periods of time include the following : excessive intake of high energy foods; inadequate exercise in relation to age ; more sedentary lifestyle ; low ...
The IOTF is a global network of expertise, a research-led think tank and advocacy arm of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. The IOTF is working to alert the world to the growing health crisis threatened by soaring levels of obesity. It works with the World Health Organization, other NGOs and stakeholders to address this challenge. The IOTF's mission is to inform the world about the urgency of the problem and to persuade governments that the time to act is now.