“High calorie drinks cause childhood obesity.”
“Cut the soda, cut the fat.”
did not have highest scientific standards. Kids estimated their intake (not the most reliable way to measure actual intake) for two days, and then the study “estimated” the effects of replacing soda intake with water. There was no actual intervention arm that had two groups, one drinking soda, one drinking water to measure results. (I’m not saying drinking less soda is a bad idea, I’m just skeptical of claims that doing so would result in dramatic weight loss, or any weight loss.) The authors call this a “key strategy” and simple and effective way to prevent childhood obesity.
In fact, the American Heart Association reviewed 50 years of data: “Studies in diet composition in children do not identify causes of obesity in youth.” In other words, they were unable to find any cause- not soda, juice, fat etc.
The DONALD study had thousands of kids followed over 17 years (much larger, more accurate, complete study than the headline grabbing soda-diet study) showed the same thing. This study looked at sugars, processed foods, fiber, in fact every imaginable combination of foods and was unable to even link (in spite of their best statistical efforts) diet composition and body mass index or weight. In other words, kids ate a huge range of calories and nutrients but you could not predict the size of the child based on the diet.
Study that actually did limit soda in schools
Another study actually looked at the effects of limiting soda in schools and found no difference in weight at the end of the study. (Where was the national press attention here?)
(Fernandes, Meenakshi, The Effect of Soft Drink Availability in Elementary Schools on Consumptiion. Journal of the ADA. 2008 1445-1451 Studied 10, 215 5th graders.
Here are a few quotes:
“soft drink availablitity at school may have limited impact on overall consumption for elementary school children.”
“Overweight children were not more likely to purchase soft drinks.”
“The removal of soft drinks from schools is estimated to decrease the share of children who consume soft drinks by 4%, but without significant impact on overall soft drink consumption.”
And yet the author concludes sodas need to be removed, school areas should rezone so kids can’t go to fast food to buy soda etc…
What it means: Unhealthy weight gain is a complex issue. Genes, stress hormones, chaos in the home, parental feeding styles, cycles of restriction and bingeing, lack of structure and grazing, dieting, and anxiety about weight all play a role. No single or even combination of dietary factors predicts weight, so interventions based solely on diet fail. While we may desperately seek a quick and easy solution, so far there hasn’t been one. I again would argue that HOW we feed kids is the missing piece.