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The question of whether sugary drinks contribute to obesity is controversial, not least because the large manufacturers of the drinks would most likely suffer if the contribution to obesity were proved.

Michael Bloomberg, the recent Mayor of New York believed the problem so serious he tried to impose bans and taxes on some drinks in an attempt to fight flab in the city (see NYT stories here and here. The industry disagreed with his position arguing that soft drinks were irrelevant to obesity:

"The New York City health department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” the industry spokesman, Stefan Friedman, said. “It’s time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity."

Given the controversy, what does the balance of evidence look like? Do sugary drinks contribute significantly to obesity?


NB I think answers should avoid the meaningless distinction between sucrose and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as the difference is negligible when ingested.

Also note that related, but not identical, questions have been asked here before such as: Can artificial sweeteners make you gain weight?

  • I'm using fat in its colloquial sense and I don't think it is misleading in context. – matt_black Jan 3 '14 at 19:11
  • @articuno I realise your adjustment to the title is driven by a desire to be a precise and accurate as possible, but my original was punchier, shorter, read better and was more likely to attract attention. And the possibility of any ambiguity was resolved in the body. But i'm not going to start a rollback war, just hope you allow a little leeway in future about how to word titles. – matt_black Jan 3 '14 at 20:22
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    I think this topic has been beaten to death on this site, it's not a very interesting question. – Sklivvz Jan 4 '14 at 13:09
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    Why isn't the answer to the question "Consuming too much sugar, in any form, will make you fat"? – SIMEL Jan 4 '14 at 15:19
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    @matt_black, because you are essentially asking whether sugar makes you fat. The problem with sugary drinks is not that they are somehow more fattening than other sources of sugar, but that they are easier to consume in large amounts. A litre of coke has 420 Kcal, while a big mac has 550, but the big mac is much more filling. – SIMEL Jan 4 '14 at 15:30
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Bes-Rastrollo M, Schulze MB, Ruiz-Canela M, Martinez-Gonzalez MA (2013) Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews. PLoS Med 10(12): e1001578. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578

[M]ost reviews that reported having no conflicts of interest argued that current evidence justified public health strategies that discourage the consumption of [sugar sweetened beverages].

Among those reviews without any reported conflict of interest, 83.3% of the conclusions (10/12) were that [sugar sweetened beverage] consumption could be a potential risk factor for weight gain.

[T]he best large randomized trials also support a direct association between [sugar sweetened beverage] consumption and weight gain or obesity.

Reviews that declared conflicts of interest with food companies reported results in the opposite direction, but this review concluded that this "suggests an empirical evidence of bias" and that "these findings draw attention to possible inaccuracies in scientific evidence from research funded by the food and drink industry".

  • What are the "results in the opposite direction": are they that "sugar doesn't make you fat", or that "sugar sweetened beverage consumption could not be a potential risk factor for weight gain", or that "current evidence doesn't justify public health strategies that discourage the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages"? – ChrisW Jan 4 '14 at 23:20
  • @ChrisW The latter two: plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/… – user5582 Jan 4 '14 at 23:23

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