Amid great fanfare, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health released a report yesterday claiming that “Sugary Drinks Pile On Pounds,” as the most popular headline put it. Once you filter through the hype, however, the paper (available here from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) offers this conclusion: The more you eat and the less you exercise, the more you’ll weigh. Oh, and soda’s bad.
One line from the review which has drawn massive media attention is the “discovery” that if the 150 calories found in an average can of soda “are added to the typical US diet without reducing intake from other sources, 1 soda/d could lead to a weight gain of 15 lb or 6.75 kg in 1 y.” We’re not really sure how to say this, but it doesn’t take a Harvard Ph.D to understand that adding 150 calories from anything to your daily diet (without otherwise changing your diet or exercise level) will add pounds to your frame.
The second claim — that soda plays a special role in promoting weight gain over and above its caloric contact — merits closer scrutiny. Unfortunately for the Harvard researchers, the existing science on soda also merits closer scrutiny, something they should have done before writing their report. The report cites four studies that we’ve debunked in our book An Epidemic of Obesity Myths (click here for an e-debunking), acknowledging the flaws of only one of the four. Since the publication of our book, we’ve dissected another of the studies included in the Harvard report, too.
It’s also worth mentioning what the researchers didn’t mention. Their report neglected to include five of the studies we cite in our brochure, “Why Soda Bans Don’t Fight Childhood Obesity,” which are among those studies indicating that there is no special association between soda and weight gain. Embarrassingly enough, one of these studies was penned just a short walk away at the Harvard Medical School.