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Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, are "primarily responsible" for increased calorie consumption among the children who drink them, says a new study.
The reputation of sugary drinks was already far from sterling. New York City's mayor just tried banning them, after all.
And now new research adds to growing evidence that the beverages go hand-in-hand with obesity.
Sugar's ties to obesity are nothing new. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says people should reduce the amount of added sugars they eat, noting that they "contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in American diets." Those are empty calories, says the USDA: They're "consumed in excessive amounts … without contributing importantly to the overall nutrient adequacy of the diet."
But sugar alone doesn't satisfy hunger, so people need to "also eat foods with sufficient dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals" on top of that, which often puts them over recommended calorie limits.
The new study, which appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, builds off that notion and says that sugary beverages are "primarily responsible" for the higher caloric consumption among children that drink them.
"Among all age groups, children who consume a high level of sugar-sweetened beverages consume more food," said the study's lead author, Kevin Mathias. "And among 12- to 18-year-olds, both food and sugar-sweetened beverages contributed to higher caloric intakes."
The study adds that the food that's responsible for those "higher caloric intakes" often isn't the healthiest:
A concerning aspect of these f?ndings is that many of the foods (e.g., pizza, grain-based desserts, fried potatoes, and sweets) that are associated with higher [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption are listed by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines as foods that Americans should limit in their diets. These foods are some of the top sources of solid fats and added sugars among children and adolescents.
Mathias, a graduate research assistant from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, called the study "another piece of the puzzle to add to the evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with higher caloric intakes."
He also cautioned that the findings dont' reveal a causal relationship. In other words, he and his team can't say sugar causes people to eat more.
"That would be the future research," said Mathias.