Schools Cutting Soda Lower Obesity
by Emma Ross, Associated Press, April 22, 2004
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discouraging carbonated drinks appear to be effective in
reducing obesity among children, a new study suggests — the
first research to document that such programs work.
A high intake of sweetened carbonated drinks probably
contributes to childhood obesity, and there is a growing
movement against soft drinks in schools. But until now there
have been no studies showing that efforts to cut children's soft
drink consumption would do any good.
The study, outlined this week on the Web site of the British
Medical Journal, found that a one-year "ditch the fizz" campaign
discouraging both sweetened and diet soft drinks led to a
decrease in the percentage of elementary school children who
were overweight or obese.
The improvement occurred after a modest reduction in consumption
— less than a can a day.
Representatives of the soft drink industry contested the
implications of the results.
The study "reduced the average daily consumption of carbonated
soft drinks by about 150 milliliters, or 35 calories — half the
reduction was in diet carbonated soft drinks. This represents
about 2 percent of a child's calorie intake, not a significant
amount," the British Soft Drink Association said in a statement.
The group said carbonated drinks provide only a fraction of
children's daily calories and therefore should not be blamed for
the childhood obesity epidemic.
However, other experts were impressed.
"If a simple targeted message aimed at kids can decrease
development of obesity, by whatever means, that's
groundbreaking," said Dr. David Ludwig, who runs a pediatric
obesity clinic at Children's Hospital in Boston but was not
connected with the study.
Previous studies of anti-obesity school programs — some costing
millions of dollars — have been disappointing. Such programs,
which included reducing dietary fat or trying to get kids to
exercise more, largely failed to show any meaningful impact.
The investigators studied 644 children, aged 7 to 11, in six
primary schools in Christchurch, England, during the 2001-2002
school year. Half the classes participated in a program
discouraging both regular and diet sodas and stressing the
benefits of a healthy diet, while the other half did not.
All students kept a diary of their soft drink consumption over
one Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the beginning of the
experiment and again for another three days at the end.
"They were told that by decreasing sugar consumption they would
improve overall well-being and that by reducing the consumption
of diet carbonated drinks they would benefit dental health,"
said the scientists, diabetes doctors and nurses at the Royal
Bournemouth Hospital in southern England.
The program involved a one-hour session given to each
participating class four times during the school year.
The first session focused on good health and the importance of
drinking water. The children ate fruit to emphasize the
sweetness of natural products and each class received a tooth
immersed in cola to show its effects on teeth.
The second and third session involved a music competition in
which classes were challenged to produce a song with a healthy
The final session involved art presentations and a classroom
quiz based on a TV game show.
The percentage of overweight and obese children increased by 7.5
percent in the group that did not participate and dipped by 0.2
percent among those who did.
Consumption of soft drinks dropped by 0.6 glasses a day among
the targeted children, but increased by 0.2 glasses a day among
the children outside the program.
All the children drank more water than before. They had been
told it improves concentration.
It was not possible to prove the weight improvements were linked
to the decline in soda consumption because the children may have
changed other aspects of their diet.
But experts said the important point was that the program
reduced obesity rates through nutrition education.
Soft drink consumption has increased enormously in the United
States and in Europe over the last three decades, and children
are becoming increasingly overweight around the world.
The World Health Organization said that although the change in
obesity in the study was small, the intervention was also
"This is a promising finding," said Derrek Yach, who spearheads
the agency's anti-obesity effort. "We would hope to see larger
studies with more intensive interventions ... What happens when
you combine this with the removal of vending machines? I'm sure
you'd see even bigger beneficial effects."
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