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Sugar-sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children


The prevalence of obesity has risen dramatically among children in the U.S. since the 1960s. Effective treatment of childhood obesity is widely recognized as instrumental to public health efforts to combat type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Many factors are thought to have contributed to the epidemic of pediatric obesity. One factor that has received increasing attention is consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Feeding studies suggest physiological mechanisms by which sugar in liquid form may be less satiating than other foods. One observational study found total energy consumption to be greater among children who consume sugar-sweetened beverages compared to non-consumes. Short-term interventional studies report increasing energy intake and body weight in subjects given sugar-sweetened beverages compared to non-caloric beverages. Our preliminary data found that the risk for becoming obese increased by about 60% in middle school children for every additional serving per day of sugar-sweetened beverage consumed. However, there are presently no longer-term intervention studies examining the effects of beverage consumption on body weight in children. The purpose of this project is to examine, in a pilot study; the effect of a home-based environmental intervention designed to decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among adolescents. Specifically, we plan to recruit subjects from a high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts who will be randomly assigned to experimental or control groups. The experimental group will receive weekly deliveries to their homes of a variety of non-caloric beverages for a period of 6 months. We anticipate that children in the experimental group will 1) decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages; 2) decrease total energy consumption; 3) show improvements in various measure of diet quality; and 4) gain less weight than controls (change in BMI is the primary study endpoint). Because soft drinks are heavily advertised to children and widely available, this study and subsequent multi-center trials are necessary to determine whether public health efforts aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among children may be warranted.

Funded by the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, grant number UL1TR002541.