The plan, described in Pediatrics, has three key features:
- Home delivery of calorie-free drinks to teens' homes.
- Counseling teens by phone about choosing calorie-free drinks.
- Monthly delivery of refrigerator magnets with slogans like 'Think Before You Drink.'
Recently, researchers tested the plan on Boston teens. The results:
- Sugary drink intake fell 82% among teens on the plan.
- The heaviest teens on the plan had lost some weight, judging by BMI (body mass index).
The researchers included Cara Ebbeling, PhD, of the endocrinology division of Children's Hospital Boston.
Home Delivery Test
The study included 103 Boston teens with an average BMI of about 25.
At the study's start, each teen reported drinking at least one daily sugary drink. Those drinks included soft drinks, lemonades, iced teas, sports drinks, punches, and juices containing less than 100% juice.
Half of the teens got the experimental drink plan for six months. For comparison, the other teens were told to continue their usual eating and drinking habits.
When it comes to weight, diet (which includes drinks, as well as food) and exercise both count.
Ebbeling's team took that into consideration. First, they taught the teens how to estimate serving size and activity level. Then, the researchers called the teens throughout the study to check up on diet and physical activity.
Teens on the drink plan cut their consumption of sugary drinks by 82%, the study shows. Intake of sugary drinks didn't change for the other teens.
The drink plan may have also helped heavier teens shed some weight. Average BMI dropped by nearly one point for the teens with the highest BMIs before starting the drink plan.
Physical activity didn't change in either group, the study shows.
Adapting the Plan
The drink plan let teens and their parents choose from a menu of calorie-free drinks. Choices included water and drinks with noncaloric sweeteners. A local grocery store delivered the drinks.
Ebbeling's team is testing the plan on a larger group of students, according to a news release from Children's Hospital Boston. Meanwhile, families may be able to adapt the researchers' drink plan.
The experimental plan boils down to making choices in shopping and in choosing drinks. It doesn't take an advanced degree or a special delivery system to do that.
"The role of sugar-sweetened beverages in promoting obesity is controversial," write Ebbeling and colleagues. They note that studies haven't proven that sugary drinks cause obesity.
However, the researchers also point out that consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among U.S. teens has risen along with pediatric obesity.
The American Beverage Association, a trade group representing makers of nonalcoholic drinks, calls obesity "a serious and complex problem that is best addressed by living a balanced lifestyle -- consuming a variety of foods and beverages in moderation and getting plenty of exercise."