Public Release:  Sugary drinks weigh heavily on teenage obesity

University of British Columbia

New research shows sugary drinks are the worst offenders in the fight against youth obesity and recommends that B.C. schools fully implement healthy eating guidelines to reduce their consumption.

Data from the 2008 Adolescent Health survey among 11,000 grade seven to 12 students in British Columbia schools indicates sugary drinks like soda increased the odds of obesity more than other foods such as pizza, french fries, chips and candies.

The study, published today in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that students in schools where sugary drinks were available consumed them more often and were more likely to be obese on the BMI scale.

"This study adds to the mounting literature that shows the high concentration of sugar in soft drinks contributes to obesity in adolescents," says lead author Louise Mâsse, an associate professor in the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, and a scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children's Hospital.

In 2005, the B.C. government released guidelines for healthy eating that suggested sugary drinks not be sold in schools, but Mâsse says full implementation is necessary to help address obesity trends.

"Schools have an important role in promoting healthy dietary habits," says Mâsse. "For example, students who are moderate consumers of these types of beverages were 60 per cent less likely to consume them in the schools that followed healthy nutrition guidelines.

"Creating an environment within the school that is more conducive to healthy eating will likely provide the greatest benefit in supporting healthy weights among adolescents."

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BACKGROUND | SUGARY DRINKS AND OBESITY

About the study

Unlike the U.S., Canada does not have a national breakfast or school lunch program that is subsidized by the federal government. In B.C., provincial government guidelines to regulate the school food environment were first written in 2005, but full implementation was only expected in the 2008/2009 school year, after the data were collected for this paper. The B.C. government revised these guidelines in 2010 and 2013.

The study is based on survey results from over 11,000 students collected by the McCreary Centre Society, as well as a nutritional and physical activity school environment survey sent to public school principals. The data were linked, which resulted in an analytic sample of 174 schools (67 middle schools, 105 high schools, and two kindergarten to grade 12 schools from 36 districts).

Funding for this study was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Study partners

UBC's School of Population and Public Health provides a vibrant, interdisciplinary academic environment at a critical time in the development of public health in Canada and around the world. One of the most research-intensive units at UBC, with a long history of public health engagement, the School offers six graduate-level academic programs, as well as a residency program. For more information, visit http://www.spph.ubc.ca

The Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) conducts discovery, translational and clinical research to benefit the health of children and their families. CFRI is supported by BC Children's Hospital Foundation and works in close partnership with the University of British Columbia, BC Children's Hospital, and BC Women's Hospital & Health Centre (agencies of the Provincial Health Services Authority). For more information, visit http://www.cfri.ca.

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