New Evidence Links Sugary Drinks and Obesity

Public service ads may be one way to reduce consumption.

Posted Jan 30, 2018

CC0 Public Domain
Source: CC0 Public Domain

You have, no doubt, heard the statistics about obesity in the U.S: Nearly forty percent of adults and nineteen percent of youth are obese, the highest rate the country has ever seen, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. We hear all sorts of reasons why people gain weight such as too many sugary drinks, not enough physical activity, and a lack of access to healthy foods.

A new systematic review sheds light on one contributing factor: sugary drinks. Researchers from Austria, Switzerland, and Spain teamed up to analyze the most recent data on sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity.

For the review, they found 30 new subjects on the topic published between 2013 and 2015. The researchers only looked at prospective studies and randomized controlled trials. Here are some take-home messages:

In an earlier systematic review of sugar-sweetened drinks, studies funded by the food and beverages industry were five times more likely to show no positive association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity. Therefore, the authors excluded studies funded by industry from this review.
Ninety-three percent of the studies in the review concluded that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with weight gain in children and adults. The evidence found that weight gain during childhood depended on age and growth rate and activity levels.

The data showed that adults gained weight gradually over the course of decades; on average, adults in the studies gained about a pound each year. Therefore, the authors concluded that cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks among adults could help people avoid age-related weight gain.

At the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, researchers are working with the New York State Department of Health to develop effective advertisements aimed at convincing teens to consume fewer sugar-sweetened drinks.

Researchers conducted focus groups to learn how black and Hispanic teenagers respond to different types of media messages, such as print ads and videos, encouraging them to reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Focus group participants preferred ads with solid information; those with unsubstantiated statements were less clear and less trusted. The focus groups also revealed that facts must be balanced with eye-catching graphics and easy-to-understand messages. Participants reacted more positively to video ads than static print ads. Most participants acknowledged the impact of these ads would be short-lived, if there was any impact because other powerful factors contribute to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as the influence of community norms.

The take-home message? Media campaigns may be one way to help Americans reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. No matter the method, convincing adults and children to avoid soda and other sugary drinks would lead to significant health improvements.

Please visit the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s website for more information on our work solving human problems.


Luger, M., Lafontan, M., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Winzer, E., Yumuk, V., & Farpour-Lambert, N. (2017). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies. Obesity Facts, 674-693. doi:10.1159/000484566