For Better Overall Health, Hold the Soda

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, September 6, 2011
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A new study finds that the ban on sugary drinks in Boston schools has led to less sugar consumption among high school students—even when they’re not in school.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health tracked students in grades 9 through 12 for two years following the 2004 ban on the on-campus sale of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks in Boston public schools. They found that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption both inside and outside of school decreased from an average of 1.71 servings per day in 2004 to 1.38 servings in 2006. This translates to 45 fewer calories daily, which is enough to eliminate up to 40% of the excess calories blamed for the rising average weight in US children, according to the study, which is published in the July issue of the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease.

“This study shows that a very simple policy change can have a big impact on student behavior,” senior author Angie L. Cradock, ScD, told the Boston Herald. “It also shows that when students couldn’t get these unhealthy beverages in school, they didn’t necessarily buy them elsewhere.”

The study supports what is becoming a broader movement in the health care community to reduce intake of both sugary beverages and sugar in general by making it easier for patients to make healthy choices.

“What you’re seeing is that people are drinking the stuff that isn’t as sweet and they become comfortable with that, and that becomes a choice,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, in the Herald article.

In another study, researchers from the University of California, Davis, and Japan found that adults who consume high levels of sugar have significantly elevated levels of several risk factors for heart disease.

In a report published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, senior author Kimber Stanhope, PhD, and colleagues stated that US dietary guidelines for sugar may be lax and should be reconsidered.

Although previous research has shown that individuals who consume large amounts of sugar are more likely to have heart disease or diabetes, there had been some controversy as to whether high-sugar diets can trigger the development of these diseases. “Our new findings demonstrate that several factors associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease were increased in individuals who consumed 25 percent of their calories as fructose or high fructose corn syrup,” Stanhope said in a statement.

In this study, the researchers examined 48 adults between the ages of 18 and 40 years. For 5 weeks before the study, participants were asked to limit daily consumption of sugar-containing beverages to one 8-oz serving of fruit juice. The participants were then divided into 3 groups, each group consuming 25% of their daily calories as fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or glucose.

The researchers found that within 2 weeks, study participants consuming fructose or high fructose corn syrup exhibited increased bloodstream concentrations of 3 known risk factors for heart disease: LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and a protein known as apolipoprotein-B, which can lead to plaque buildup in arteries.
These same risk factors for heart disease did not increase in participants who consumed glucose, they found.

Stanhope noted that the American Heart Association recommends that individuals consume just 5% of their daily calories as added sugar, but the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest an upper limit of 25% or less.

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