A study suggests Hispanic teens may be more likely to lose weight by cutting sugary beverages from their diet. (Getty Images)

Study: Latino kids should ditch soda to lose more weight

Hispanic teens may be more likely to lose weight and lower their Body Mass Index (BMI) by cutting sugary beverages out of their diet, according to a new study released September 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the new study, Hispanic teens had a greater decrease in weight and BMI after a year without sugary beverages than non-Hispanic teens.

“Sugary beverages have been linked to obesity for many years,” says Dr. David Ludwig, co-author of the study and Director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston’s Children Hospital.

In an original study featured in The Lancet in 2001, Dr. Ludwig found that every additional serving of sugary beverages increased the risk of obesity by 60 percent. This most recent four-year study was their follow-up. It featured 224 randomly chosen obese teenagers who were habitual soft drink users.  After two years with a control group who continued their soft drink use and an intervention group who switched to non-sugary beverages like water, researchers found that, “Hispanics gained 14 pounds less [in their soft drink reduction group],” says Dr. Ludwig who notes, “That’s a big difference.”

While the study was unable to find a direct connection for Hispanics’ greater weight loss after eliminating sugary beverages, Dr. Ludwig suspects that biological susceptibility may be key.

“High insulin creators are specifically susceptible to high sugar beverages,” says Dr. Ludwig in regards to Hispanics’ high risk for diabetes and high insulin production.

RELATED: Latinos may face higher risk for type 2 diabetes

But as Dr. Ludwig points out, it’s important to note the small number of Hispanics in the study: 50 in the clinical trial and 84 from the observational study in 2001.

So what should Hispanics take away from this?

“I’d take it with a grain of salt,” says Cristina Rivera, President of Nutrition in Motion, registered dietitian and board certified sports nutritionist, who notes that the study has a few flaws. “It’s a very small sample size [of Latinos]. And we don’t know if their results were generated because they consumed fewer calories in general.”

According to Rivera, cutting any calories from your diet could lead to weight loss, regardless of ethnicity. And people should remember that focusing on one specific part of your diet is not the ultimate problem-solver.

“Having a scapegoat [like sugary beverages] sometimes doesn’t hold people accountable,” says Rivera who warns of danger in targeting only one element. “A person might say, ‘I didn’t drink soda so I’ll have a double cheeseburger and fries today.’ They think it’s just that one thing that makes you obese and getting rid of it will solve all your problems. That’s not true,” she adds.

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Rivera also points to the study’s limited research on the effects of physical activity and decreased TV viewing, which can affect weight and BMI. Moreover, she notes that the biological susceptibility argument doesn’t line up; Rivera says there’s no evidence to suggest Latinos produce more insulin than any other ethnic group.

Rivera’s advice – for Hispanics and her clients – is to focus on portion control, exercise and burning more calories than you consume. “Learn to have things in moderation. If you want a sweeter or high-sugar beverage, have less of it,” says Rivera.

Sugary beverages have already taken center-stage with New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial ban on the sale of sugary soft drinks larger than 16 oz.

For Dr. Ludwig — who suggests parents should “just say no,” to sugary beverages with high costs and links to obesity — the argument is clear: “I think [this study and others like it] strongly support public health measures to limit sugary beverages, especially in children.”

But for Rivera, it’s too soon to tell. With small sample groups and limited research on physical activity’s role she says, “We need more concrete evidence.”

More evidence may be on the way. Dr. Ludwig plans to continue research on sugary beverages. His next study will feature more Hispanics cutting sugary drinks from their diets.

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