Researchers have found that an educational program designed to help children stop drinking soda has had no long-term impact on obesity.
An estimated ten percent of children worldwide are overweight. Drinking sugared soda seems to be a contributing factor. These have a high glycemic index and are energy dense. A number of studies have shown the relationship between soda intake and obesity, a link which has also been acknowledged by the World Health Organization. They suggest that the body may not detect the energy in these drinks as easily as that from food, so individuals may not compensate by consuming less in the following hours.
About 640 children, 7 to 11 years old, participated in a study of the effects of soda on diet. They received several classes on nutrition over the course of one school year. The main objective was to discourage the consumption of soda (sweetened and unsweetened) and eat a balanced, healthy diet.
The researchers, led by health promotion nurse Janet James of the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, UK, said: “We thought the children would respond best to a simple, uncomplicated message, so they were told that by decreasing sugar consumption they would improve overall well-being and that by reducing the consumption of diet carbonated drinks they would benefit dental health.”
Teachers were asked to reiterate the message in lessons. Fruit was offered in class so the students could learn about the sweetness of natural food. Music and art competitions were held and quizzes were given. At the end of the year there was a “modest reduction in the number of soda drinks consumed.” The percentage of overweight and obese children fell by 0.2 percent among those given the program, but rose by 7.5 percent in a comparison group, a statistically significant difference.
Researchers remeasured the children’s height, weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) two years later and found that the effects had not been sustained. Although the percentage of overweight children was still slightly lower than in the comparison group, the difference was not significant.
A recent review of 22 studies found that interventions in children’s diets did not usually significantly affect their weight.
However, one school-based study was effective at reducing obesity rates. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated 1,295 sixth- through eighth-grade children who participated in a school-based health behavior intervention known as Planet Health.
Over two school years, the students were given regular “Planet Health” sessions which focused on reducing television viewing and intake of high-fat foods and increasing fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity.
At the end of the two years, rates of obesity among girls were significantly lower than at comparison schools where students were not given the sessions. This drop was linked to a reduction in TV viewing, with each hour of reduced TV viewing being significantly associated with a drop in risk of obesity. However, no differences were found for boys.
James J., Thomas P. and Kerr D. Preventing childhood obesity: two year follow-up results from the Christchurch obesity prevention programme in schools (CHOPPS). British Medical Journal, published online September 9, 2007.
James J, Thomas P, Cavan DA, Kerr D. Preventing childhood obesity by reducing consumption of carbonated drinks: cluster randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, April 23, 2004, pp. 1237-39.
Gortmaker S. L. et al. Reducing obesity via a school-based interdisciplinary intervention among youth. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 153, April 1999, pp. 409-18.