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Review
. 2013 Aug;14(8):606-19.
doi: 10.1111/obr.12040. Epub 2013 Jun 13.

Resolved: There Is Sufficient Scientific Evidence That Decreasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Will Reduce the Prevalence of Obesity and Obesity-Related Diseases

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Review

Resolved: There Is Sufficient Scientific Evidence That Decreasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Will Reduce the Prevalence of Obesity and Obesity-Related Diseases

F B Hu. Obes Rev. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the single largest source of added sugar and the top source of energy intake in the U.S. diet. In this review, we evaluate whether there is sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing SSB consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and its related diseases. Because prospective cohort studies address dietary determinants of long-term weight gain and chronic diseases, whereas randomized clinical trials (RCTs) typically evaluate short-term effects of specific interventions on weight change, both types of evidence are critical in evaluating causality. Findings from well-powered prospective cohorts have consistently shown a significant association, established temporality and demonstrated a direct dose-response relationship between SSB consumption and long-term weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). A recently published meta-analysis of RCTs commissioned by the World Health Organization found that decreased intake of added sugars significantly reduced body weight (0.80 kg, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.39-1.21; P < 0.001), whereas increased sugar intake led to a comparable weight increase (0.75 kg, 0.30-1.19; P = 0.001). A parallel meta-analysis of cohort studies also found that higher intake of SSBs among children was associated with 55% (95% CI 32-82%) higher risk of being overweight or obese compared with those with lower intake. Another meta-analysis of eight prospective cohort studies found that one to two servings per day of SSB intake was associated with a 26% (95% CI 12-41%) greater risk of developing T2D compared with occasional intake (less than one serving per month). Recently, two large RCTs with a high degree of compliance provided convincing data that reducing consumption of SSBs significantly decreases weight gain and adiposity in children and adolescents. Taken together, the evidence that decreasing SSBs will decrease the risk of obesity and related diseases such as T2D is compelling. Several additional issues warrant further discussion. First, prevention of long-term weight gain through dietary changes such as limiting consumption of SSBs is more important than short-term weight loss in reducing the prevalence of obesity in the population. This is due to the fact that once an individual becomes obese, it is difficult to lose weight and keep it off. Second, we should consider the totality of evidence rather than selective pieces of evidence (e.g. from short-term RCTs only). Finally, while recognizing that the evidence of harm on health against SSBs is strong, we should avoid the trap of waiting for absolute proof before allowing public health action to be taken.

Keywords: Diabetes; nutrition; obesity; sugar-sweetened beverages.

Conflict of interest statement

Potential conflicts of interest: None

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Mean weight in 1991, 1995, and 1999 according to trends in sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption in 1,969 women who changed consumption between 1991 and 1995 and either changed or maintained level of consumption until 1999* * Low and high intakes were defined as ≤1/week and ≥1/day. The number of subjects were: low-high-high=323, low-high-low=461, high-low-high=110, and high-low-low=746. Groups with similar intake in 1991 and 1995 were combined for estimates for these time points. Means were adjusted for age, alcohol intake, physical activity, smoking, postmenopausal hormone use, oral contraceptive use, cereal fiber intake, and total fat intake at each time point. From reference 21.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Relative Risk of the Development of Obesity per Increment of 10 Risk Alleles, According to Intake of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages For the discovery phase, with data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) cohorts, the analyses were based on 18 years of follow-up for 6402 initially nonobese women (1980 to 1998, 1107 incident cases of obesity) and 12 years of follow-up for 3889 initially nonobese men (1986 to 1998, 297 incident cases of obesity). Shown are the pooled relative risks of incident obesity, with adjustment for age, source of genotyping data, level of physical activity, status with respect to current smoking, alcohol intake, time spent watching television, Alternative Healthy Eating Index score, and total energy intake. For the replication phase, with data from the Women’s Genome Health Study (WGHS) cohort, the analyses were based on a median of 6 years of follow-up for 18,127 initially nonobese women (1992 to 1998, 2280 incident cases of obesity). Shown are the relative risks of incident obesity, with adjustment for age, geographic region, eigenvectors, level of physical activity, status with respect to current smoking, alcohol intake, and total energy intake. Horizontal bars indicate 95% confidence intervals. From: Qi Q, Chu AY, Kang JH, Jensen MK, Curhan GC, Pasquale LR, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages and genetic risk of obesity. The New England journal of medicine. 2012; 367: 1387–96.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Body-Mass Index (BMI) z Score in the 477 Children Who Drank the Study Beverages for the Full 18 Months. The z score for BMI is the BMI expressed as the number of standard deviations by which a child differed from the mean in the Netherlands for his or her age and sex. Panel A shows mean z scores for the two study groups over the 18-month study period. Panel B shows the between-group difference in the mean change from baseline (the mean change in the BMI z score in the sugar-free group minus the mean change in the sugar group), as a function of time. T bars in both panels indicate standard errors. From: de Ruyter JC, Olthof MR, Seidell JC, Katan MB. A trial of sugar-free or sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight in children. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2012; 367: 1397–406.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Forrest plot of prospective cohort studies evaluating sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes (310,819 participants and 15,043 incident diabetes cases), comparing extreme quantiles of intake. From: Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010; 33: 2477–83.

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