Context: Soft drink consumption in the United States has tripled in recent decades, paralleling the dramatic increases in obesity prevalence. The purpose of this clinical review is to evaluate the extent to which current scientific evidence supports a causal link between sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption and weight gain.
Evidence acquisition: MEDLINE search of articles published in all languages between 1966 and December 2006 containing key words or medical subheadings, such as "soft drinks" and "weight." Additional articles were obtained by reviewing references of retrieved articles, including a recent systematic review. All reports with cross-sectional, prospective cohort, or clinical trial data in humans were considered.
Evidence synthesis: Six of 15 cross-sectional and 6 of 10 prospective cohort studies identified statistically significant associations between soft drink consumption and increased body weight. There were 5 clinical trials; the two that involved adolescents indicated that efforts to reduce sugar-sweetened soft drinks slowed weight gain. In adults, 3 small experimental studies suggested that consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks caused weight gain; however, no trial in adults was longer than 10 weeks or included more than 41 participants. No trial reported the effects on lipids.
Conclusions: Although observational studies support the hypothesis that sugar-sweetened soft drinks cause weight gain, a paucity of hypothesis-confirming clinical trial data has left the issue open to debate. Given the magnitude of the public health concern, larger and longer intervention trials should be considered to clarify the specific effects of sugar-sweetened soft drinks on body weight and other cardiovascular risk factors.