Study: Soda Does Not Make Kids Fat

April 4, 2001 -- Drinking soda pop does not make kids overweight, according to a new study.

The study refutes a separate study released in the medical journal Lancet which said soda pop contributed to the growing number of overweight kids.

Researchers at the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy looked at four studies concerning the effect of sugar-infused carbonated beverages on children and adults. Their findings suggest that soda pop is not the culprit to bulging waistlines.

"The cold hard reality is that people are eating too much and exercising too little," Storey said.

Another doctor, Maureen Storey, Associate Director of the Georgetown Center, says: "Portion sizes have expanded dramatically and it is simply wrong to blame increases in obesity on food or beverages that contain carbohydrates."

Two Ounces Does Not Make a Difference

In closely scrutinizing studies done by the National Health and Nutrition Institute and the USDA, researchers found that teens who drink soda pop between the age of 12 and 16 drink only about a can of soda pop a day. Those teens also were not less likely to be physically active and they were not substituting soda for milk.

"In the studies, twenty percent of the kids didn't drink any soda," Storey said. "Thirty percent drank less than a can of soda and only one out of 20 teens drank three and a half or more cans a day. We found that overweight children drank only about 2 ounces more soda pop than children who weren't overweight. If you're seeking out a villain for why children are overweight, it's not 2 ounces of soda pop."

The Lancet study looked at children who were 11 to 12 years old, a time when kids typically fluctuate in size greatly, added Storey.

"They tend to get chubby and they grow, they get chubby and they grow, it's a weird age," said Dr. Maureen Storey.

More Kids Overweight

The prevalence of obesity among children in the United States increased by 100 percent between 1980 and 1994.

Dr. Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, an independent worldwide scientific organization which was not connected with any of the studies, said the evidence indicates that sugar is slightly less fattening than fat, but that sugar in drinks can be deceptive because the beverages are less filling than food.

In the last 10 years, soft drink consumption has almost doubled among children in the United States. The average American teenager consumes 15 to 20 extra teaspoons of sugar a day just from soda and other sugared drinks, a lot of this due to the size of soda cans being larger.

In a 1998 report on the issue, the U.S. health lobby group Center for Science in the Public Interest called soft drinks "liquid candy."

Skewed Studies

But Storey insists the studies that purport to show that soft drinks cause obesity in children are skewed.

"Added sugars have no practical effect on dietary quality, including calcium intake among the general population, children, and adolescents. Our research shows that in the general population (over age two), it would take an additional 417 teaspoons of table sugar or 42 twelve-ounce cans of carbonated soft drinks to displace one serving of dairy foods," she said.

What Storey and researchers question of the Lancet study was the percentage used to determine that soda pop was making kids fat. Thirty-seven of the kids in the study reported being overweight and 35 were underweight which left two children affected by soda pop intake.

"You can go from being average weight to being overweight in a day if you use current body mass index measures," she adds.