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Soft drinks are not the major contributor to childhood obesity, say researchers

By Nathan Gray , 15-Jun-2012

Consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages is not a major contributor to the rising levels of childhood obesity, according to Canadian research that assesses consumption and risk in over 10,000 children and youths.

The study – published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism – examines the relationship between beverage intake patterns of Canadian children and their risk for obesity. Led by Susan Whiting of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, the researchers revealed that sweetened beverage intake is not a risk factor for childhood obesity in most agree groups, noting that intake seems to be a risk factor only in boys aged 6-11.

Whiting and her colleagues revealed that whilst many children and youths consume soft drinks and other sweetened beverages – such as fruit punch and lemonade – almost all groups are not at any higher risk for obesity than their peers who drink healthier beverages.

"We found sweetened drinks to be dominant beverages during childhood, but saw no consistent association between beverage intake patterns and overweight and obesity," said Whiting.

However, the lead researcher noted that overconsumption of sweetened beverages “may put some children at increased risk for overweight and obesity,” especially as consumption habits formed early in life and are often maintained into adulthood.

“Indeed, boys aged 6-11 years who consumed mostly soft drinks were shown to be at increased risk for overweight and obesity as compared with those who drank a more moderate beverage pattern," she revealed.

Study details

The researchers noted that sweetened beverage intake has risen in past decades. This increase in consumptions has been matched with a rise in prevalence of overweight and obesity among children.

“Our objective was to examine the relationship between beverage intake patterns and overweight and obesity among Canadian children.”

The research team determined beverage consumption patterns among Canadian children aged between two years old and 18 years old using cluster analysis where socio-demographics, ethnicity, household income, and food security were significantly different across the clusters.

Data from more than 10,000 children was divided into different age and gender groups before beverage preferences and obesity risk were assessed.

Results of the analysis showed that sweetened beverages are consumed in higher amounts than recommended among many groups of children and adolescents.

“Overall, our results show no relationship between Canadian children’s patterns of sweetened beverage consumption and overweight and obesity, except boys aged 6–11 years who consume mostly soft drinks may be at increased risk for overweight and obesity,” said the researchers.

Whiting and her colleagues noted that their results add to the ‘debate’ surrounding the “increasing public health concern related to sweetened beverage intake, excess energy intake, and obesity.”

Source: Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1139/h2012-074
“Beverage patterns among Canadian children and relationship to overweight and obesity”
Authors: A.D. Danyliw, H. Vatanparast, N. Nikpartow, S.J. Whiting

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