If You Give a Teen a No-Calorie Drink…

Teens skipping sugary drinks gained less weight when no calorie drinks were available

(RxWiki News) What's the best way to get teenagers to stop drinking so many soft drinks, fruit juices and other sugar-sweetened drinks? Offer them something different.

A recent study has found that an extensive intervention that provided teens with water and diet drinks led to less weight gain in them.

"Drink more water, less soda."

The study, led by Cara Ebbeling, PhD, and David Ludwig, MD, PhD, both of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital, aimed to find out the long-term impact of sugary drinks versus no-calorie drinks.

The study involved 224 ninth and tenth graders who were overweight or obese and who drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage of 100 percent fruit juice drink per day.

The study lasted two years overall, with one year devoted to the intervention and one year devoted to follow-up.

The intervention consisted of several components. The main component was that half the teens received home deliveries of calorie-free drinks — both water and diet drinks — every two weeks.

Also during the one-year intervention, the parents received monthly motivational calls lasting 30 minutes, and the families received three 20-minute check-in visits.

The participants also received mailed messages to drink the water and diet drinks and not to drink sugary drinks. The messages recommended water over artificially sweetened beverages.

No information or advice was offered to either group regarding physical activity or any other dietary changes.

The control group who did not receive deliveries, home visits, phone calls or mailed messages received two $50 grocery store gift cards without directions on what to buy with them.

The majority of teens remained in the study: 97 percent were still part of the study after the first year, and 93 percent were still involved at the end of the second year.

At the start of the study, all the teens drank an average of 1.7 servings per day of sugar-sweetened drinks. By the end of the first year, the group receiving deliveries drank almost no sugar-sweetened drinks.

In addition, after a year, the teenagers who had one year's worth of calorie-free drinks deliveries gained about 4 pounds less, on average, compared to those who continued to drink beverages with added sugar.

Latino teens received the biggest benefit from the intervention — they gained 14 pounds less than the group of teens who did not receive drink deliveries.

"No other single food product has been shown to change body weight by this amount over a year simply through its reduction," said Dr. Ludwig in a release about the study.

Meanwhile, those in the non-intervention (control) group who continued to drink sugary beverages did decrease their intake slightly.

At the end of the second year — which did not include any drink deliveries or other interventions like phone calls, visits or notes — there was no differences between the two groups in terms of weight gain.

However, the teens who had been in the experimental group did continue to have lower consumption of sugary drinks than the control group at the end of the second year.

"Our findings suggest that both access to non-caloric beverages and clear messages for consumers may be at the heart of behavior change," said Dr. Ebbeling in the accompanying release. "Adolescents can make healthful dietary changes with adequate support and understandable messages."

The study was published September 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Center for Research Resources to the Boston Children's Hospital General Clinical Research Center, the Harvard Catalyst Clinical and Translational Science Center and the New Balance Foundation.

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Review Date: 
September 24, 2012