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Weighing in on Sugary Drinks

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Drinking the occasional sugar-sweetened beverage, be it soda, an energy drink, sweetened water, or fruit punch, isn’t going to make you fat. But it’s now clear that many children and adults are at risk for gaining weight if they consume too much of these products.

An illustration showing that 10 spoonfuls of sugar can be found in a 12oz can of soda, 13 spoonfuls of sugar can be found in a 16oz cup of soda and 26 spoonfuls of sugar can be found in 32oz bottle of soda.I want to share new research from three recent papers in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) because, together, they provide some of the most compelling evidence of the role of sugary drinks in childhood obesity, which affects nearly one-fifth of young people between the ages of 6 and 19.

In the first study [1], researchers randomly assigned 641 normal-weight school children between the ages of 4 and 12 to one of two groups. The first group received an 8 oz sugary drink each day; the second received the artificially sweetened version. After 18 months, it was clear that the kids consuming the sugary drink had gained about 2.25 pounds more weight, compared with the kids drinking the zero calorie drinks. They also packed on more fat.


A View of the U.S. Obesity Epidemic

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Map showing Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults in 1985

 

Map showing Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults in 1995 by state

 

Map showing Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults in 2005 by state

 

Map showing Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults in 2010 by state

These snapshots reveal a very disturbing trend: the rise in obesity in the US from 1985 to 2010. Today one third of adults in the US are obese, another third are overweight.

Because obesity has risen to epidemic levels—causing devastating and costly health problems, reducing life expectancy, and provoking stigma and discrimination—the NIH has established the NIH Obesity Research Task Force to accelerate progress in obesity research. For example, why are some individuals more susceptible to obesity? Can knowledge of biology and behavior be leveraged to develop better intervention strategies? What strategies work? For whom? Can these approaches be scaled up?