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A simple answer to teen weight loss: Reducing sugary drinks

According to a study published in March issue of Paediatrics, Children's Hospital Boston report that a novel intervention to limit consumption of sugary drinks –home deliveries of noncaloric beverages – had a beneficial effect on weight loss. //

Cara Ebbeling, PhD, and David Ludwig, MD, PhD, in the hospital's Division of Endocrinology, led the randomized, controlled trial; enrolled 103 children aged 13 to 18 through a Boston area high school. The teens were offered a $100 mall gift certificate if they stuck with the six-month study and all did.

Half the teens, picked at random, received weekly deliveries of noncaloric beverages of their own choosing – bottled waters and artificially-sweetened drinks. The remaining teens, serving as a control group, were asked to continue their usual eating and drinking patterns.

At the end of six months, the group receiving beverage deliveries had an 82 percent reduction in consumption of sugary drinks, while intake in the control group remained unchanged. The heavier the teen was initially, the stronger the effect on body weight. Among the heaviest one-third of teens, the beverage-delivery group had a marked decrease in body mass index (BMI), while the control group had a slight increase – a group-to-group difference of almost 1 pound per month. Other factors affecting obesity – physical activity levels and television viewing – did not change in either group.

"Sugary beverages have no nutritional value and seem to make a huge contribution to weight gain. People often get overwhelmed by nutrition advice and give up. We opted to study one simple, potentially high-impact behavior, and made it easy for adolescents to replace sugary drinks with noncaloric beverages," says Ebelling.

As a comment by the authors, “It should be relatively simple to translate this intervention into a pragmatic public health approach. For example, schools could make noncaloric beverages available to students by purchasing large quantities at low costs."

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