Trial data backs ‘moderate’ consumption of sugary drinks for teenagers

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Moderate consumption of sugary drinks - which have been linked to obesity and diabetes risk - may not be as unhealthy as we think, say researchers who found no metaboilic changes.
Moderate consumption of sugary drinks - which have been linked to obesity and diabetes risk - may not be as unhealthy as we think, say researchers who found no metaboilic changes.
Moderate consumption of sugary drinks has little impact on adolescents' metabolic health, as long as they remain physically active, according to a new trial.

Sugar-sweetened drinks are often targeted for their high content of added sugars and lack of nutritional value, but according to new data from a US trial short-term moderate consumption of such drinks has little effect on metabolic risk markers – providing people are physically active.

The research, led by Professor Jill Kanaley from the University of Missouri-Columbia, compared the metabolic health effects of short-term consumption of high-fructose and high-glucose sweetened beverages in adolescents in a single blind, counterbalanced trial – finding in healthy and physically active teens, consumption of such sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) did not have differential effects on fasting or postprandial cholesterol, triacylglycerol, glucose, or hepatic insulin clearance.

"These beverages may not be as unhealthy for adolescents as previously thought, provided that kids stay active,"​ said Kanaley. "That physical activity component is really critical in protecting against some of the negative effects of drinking large amounts of sugar-sweetened drinks demonstrated in previous studies."

Study details

Kanaley and her team measured several aspects of metabolic health after participants had consumed moderate amounts of either high-glucose or high-fructose beverages every day for two weeks.  The team used armbands with electronic sensors to monitor physical activity of the participants, all of whom were healthy male and female adolescents ages 15-20.

The high-glucose (HG) drink contained 50 grams of glucose and 15 grams of fructose; the high-fructose (HF) drink contained 50 grams of fructose and 15 grams of glucose. In comparison, the team noted that two 12-ounce cans of white soda contain about 50 grams of fructose, although the amount of sugar found in soft drinks varies by brand and type.

After two weeks the team assessed, insulin sensitivity and resistance, fasting and postprandial glucose, lactate, lipid, cholesterol, insulin, C-peptide, insulin secretion, and clearance responses to the HF or HG drinks.

The team found that this short-term, moderate consumption of high-fructose and high-glucose beverages had little impact on the metabolic health measures. Indeed, analysis showed that body weight, QUICKI (whole-body insulin sensitivity), HOMA-IR (hepatic insulin resistance), and fasting lipids, cholesterol, glucose, lactate, and insulin secretion or clearance were not different between trials.

However, they noted that fasting HDL- and HDL3​-cholesterol concentrations were approximately 10 to 31% greater in female adolescents than in male adolescents.

"I certainly would recommend that they work to reduce their children's intake of sugary drinks, but it also is important for kids to remain active, especially if they are drinking a lot of sugary beverages,”​ Kanaley said.

“In our study, the female adolescents averaged around 8,000 steps per day, and the males averaged about 10,000 steps per day. These children weren't athletes, but they had active lifestyles,”​ she added.

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