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September 24, 2012 | 3 minute read

Sugary Sodas, Weight and Cancer Prevention

Two new studies strengthen the link between sugary drinks leading to weight gain and obesity. The research adds powerful new evidence to AICR’s recommendation that people should avoid drinking sugary beverages to reduce cancer risk because what we weigh is important. Obesity links to increased risk of seven types of cancers.

The studies were released on Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new studies provide a strong case for the direct effect of sugary sodas on weight gain, regardless of diet and exercise. The studies were relatively long and experimental: In contrast, the vast majority of long-term studies on sugary beverages  — and diet in general – are observational, meaning that researchers look at any link between what participants drink and their weight.

These experimental studies both focused on how sugary beverages affect the weight of children and adolescents.

The first study took place over two-years and included 224 overweight and obese adolescents who drank almost two sugary beverages a day. About half of the teens were asked to drink water, diet sodas, or other calorie-free beverages instead of their normal sugary drink. The other half continued to drink their sugary beverages as normal.

For the first year, researchers delivered the calorie-free drinks to the intervention teens’ homes every couple weeks and regularly checked-in with the family. The other group received $50 grocery store gift cards.

After this one year, the adolescents in the intervention group were drinking almost no sugary beverages and they had a lower BMI compared to the control group. After the second year — in which there were no instructions or drinks given — there was no difference in BMIs between the two groups. But the intervention teens still reported consuming fewer calories and sugar.

In the second study, conducted in the Netherlands, 641 children either were either given a can of a sugary-104 calorie drink or a sugar-free version to drink every day. The children were ages 5 to 11 and mostly at a healthy weight.

After one and a half years, almost 500 children completed the study. The children who drank the sugar-free beverage gained less weight and fat than those in the sugary groups.

Because research suggests that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, findings ways to prevent weight gain for children and teens is important. A 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that teens and young adults consume more sugar drinks than other age groups.

For ideas on how to replace your sugary drinks with the sugar-free types, here’s our New American Plate Challenge on the topic. Any strategies that have worked for you? Please share.

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