Too much of a good thing

Kids are getting 7-15% of their total energy from sweetened drinks.  The beverage industry claims that this is small potatoes.  “Focusing on a small source of calories rather than on the total diet is a misplaced allocation of resources,” according to the American Beverage Association, quoted in the LA times.  But is it really a small source of calories?

Three studies published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine indicate the answer is “no.”  In two of the papers, researchers subbed zero-calorie drinks for sweetened drinks.  The de Ruyter study was especially well controlled: they made the drinks to look and taste identical, the drinks were given out in school and most kids drank them over their morning break. Also, they collected urine from the participants to confirm compliance.  The take-home message?  Kids who drink sugary drinks are fatter and have a higher BMI.

The third paper looked at adults (gulp!) and found that if you are genetically predisposed to obesity, then drinking sweet beverages in an extra-risky proposition.  They screened people for common genetic variations (SNPs) that are associated with high BMI.  For those folks, one sugary drink a day is much more likely to tip the scales to overweight or obese than for people who have “skinny” genes.

A pound of weight gain comes from consuming 3500 more calories than you need.  Lots of kids drink 300 calories worth of sugary drinks every day.   Unless they are scaling back the food they eat by 300 calories, those drinks add up to an extra 2 pounds per month, or 24 pounds per year.  Follow the math, and it equals an obesity epidemic.

It’s unrealistic to think that kids will only drink thirst-quenching water and satiety-inducing milk.  My grandmother’s advice rings truer than ever today: “too much of a good thing is not a good thing.”

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