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Journal Promotes Dairy and
Sugar in Poorly Designed Study

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finished off the year with a new low. The conclusion of a poorly designed study at the University of Minnesota suggests that the link between soft drinks, milk and "obesity risk is unclear and complicated," contradicting established facts which prove the opposite.

"The purported link between soft drinks and other beverages and obesity risk is unclear and complicated, especially in youth," Dr. Mark A. Pereira, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and an author on the report stated.

In a study Pereira and colleagues conducted, they found no link between weight gain over 5 years and teens' drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages.

According to the report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pereira's team assessed diet, lifestyle, and weight in 2,294 ethnically-diverse boys and girls in the Minneapolis/St. Paul school system.

Initially, when the teens were about 15 years old, 1,289 reported drinking 7 or more servings of white milk weekly, while 1,456 said they drank sugar-sweetened punch and 1,325 said they drank sugary soft drinks up to 6 times a week. Additionally, about 1,300 of these teens said they drank up to 6 servings of apple juice or orange juice weekly.

The investigators claim they saw no overall association between consumption of sweetened beverages and the teens' weight gain over 5 years after allowing for other behaviors tied to beverage drinking habits and weight status.

Pereira and colleagues also found that drinking little or no white milk was tied to greater gains in body mass index (BMI); while drinking white milk nearly every day or more often seemed tied to lesser BMI gains.

The study failed to explain several crucial elements that would easily negate the validity of such research. For example, they used Project EAT to examine the consumption patterns for each beverage. The research on this project was designed primarily through the use of surveys and questionaires which had no reliable method of data collection that could be verified.

There was no objective analysis on consumption patterns or on the types of beverages that were actually consumed by each participant. Subjective interpretations are always predisposed to a high rate of error in any scientific study. That's why they are rarely used. It was also not a controlled double-blind or random study. Many of the original participants were not maintained throughout the study and critical variables such as childhood weight were dropped because they were considered data redundant.

Moreover, the study used Body Mass Index (BMI), a poor measurement and a controversially inaccurate indicator to assess health and weight gain of the participants. It makes absolutely no distinction between body weight from muscle and body weight from fat. This would be especially significant in the age group defined for the study (i.e. 17-20). Without a more accurate measurement and determinant of health, such as body composition, it would be impossible for the authors of the study to measure weight gain and relate it to any relevant and comparative health standard. For example, a participant that consumed sugary beverages for years may have reduced bone density, muscle mass but increased body fat. This may very well leave little discernment between pre-study and post-study weights, however the effects on health would be devastating, especially in the long-term.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who is also the public relations machine for vaccines in the U.S., was one of the grant providers for Project EAT. The agency has several strong ties to dairy and sugar interest groups, so it's no surprise they would fund a study destined to find no association between obesity risk and milk or sugar.

The link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity risk in youth may be "weaker than we have been led to believe by individual high-profile studies," Pereira said.

In a previous study in the British medical journal, a team of Harvard researchers presented clear evidence linking soft drink consumption to childhood obesity. They found that 12-year-olds who drank soft drinks regularly were more likely to be overweight than those who didn't.

Researchers found that schoolchildren who drank soft drinks consumed almost 200 more calories per day than their counterparts who didn't down soft drinks. That finding helps support the notion that we don't compensate well for calories in liquid form.

In 2005, a review of data and expert opinion suggested soft drink consumption greatly increases the risk of childhood obesity, according to researchers reporting in the May 2005 issue Journal of Pediatrics.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.

January 4, 2010

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