Are sugary drinks fattening? Depends who you ask

By Nicholas Bakalar

Are there good scientific studies that show that drinking sugar-sweetened soda increases the risk for obesity? The answer may vary depending on who is paying for the study.

Researchers examined 17 large reviews of the subject (one review assessed results for adults and children separately, so there were 18 sets of study conclusions). Six of the studies reported receiving funds from industry groups, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and others. The other 12 reviews claimed no conflicts of interest. The analysis appears in the December issue of PLOS Medicine.

Among the reviews with no conflicts of interest, 10 of 12, or 83.3 percent, reported that sugary drinks were directly associated with weight gain or obesity. The conclusions of studies supported by industry were a mirror image: five of six — the same 83.3 percent — reported that there was insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion.

“I wouldn’t say that industry participation alone is enough to dismiss the study’s results in the whole of nutrition research,” said the lead author, Maira Bes-Rastrollo, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra in Spain. “But I think that the general public and the scientific community should be aware that the food industry has vested interests that may influence their conclusions.”

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