Low-Cal Drinks Help Teens Trim Down

Study found some lost a pound a month

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By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, Oct. 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- It sounds too simple to be an effective weight-loss strategy. But it just may be. Let your teens who are battling their weight choose their favorite low-cal beverages, stock the refrigerator with those drinks, and watch the pounds slip away.

That's the suggestion from a team of researchers at Children's Hospital Boston, who studied the strategy, found that it worked, and published their conclusions in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Simply decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption seems to be a promising strategy for preventing and treating obesity," said Cara Ebbeling, co-director of obesity research in the division of endocrinology at the hospital and the study's lead author.

The strategy makes sense to another expert, and here's why. "This works because it is a small change," said Lona Sandon, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a registered dietitian at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"The adolescents are not being asked to give something up or go out of their way to do something differently," Sandon said. "Nor must they worry about counting calories."

In the study, Ebbeling and her team evaluated 103 teens; half were asked to pick non-caloric or low-caloric drinks they liked and a supply of them was delivered to their homes. The other half were not asked for their favorite non-caloric drinks nor did they receive any. Over the 25-week study, the researchers found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages dropped by 82 percent in the low-cal beverage group compared to the control group.

When the researchers weighed the teens and re-measured their body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height), they found that the heavier teens in the low-cal group lost about a pound a month.

The low-cal choices included sugar-free sodas, non-caloric lemonade and ice tea, and bottled water.

The simple strategy comes at a time when many parents of teens are frustrated trying to help their overweight children. The rate of overweight among children and teens ages 6 to 19 was 16 percent in 2002, triple the percent in 1980. That 16 percent translates to 9 million kids, according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sandon said small changes like the one tried in the study can be effective approaches to weight loss. "A simple change of what is available in their [the teens'] environment helped them to decrease calorie levels without really being aware of it. This shows that our environment can have a profound effect on food choices."

Other small steps can also offer big payoffs for teens who want to lose weight -- or simply control it, Sandon said. Parents can offer a lower-calorie cereal alternative for breakfast, for instance. And they can be sure a green, leafy salad with low-fat dressing is available with lunch and dinner.

Other tips:

  • Buy individually wrapped snack items because less will be consumed than if the entire package is available;
  • Replace 10-oz. glasses with 8-oz. ones;
  • Switch to smaller dinner plates because they tend to encourage less consumption of food.

Besides changing the "eating environment," teens can also increase their levels of activity. It can be as simple as walking the dog more. Limiting television time is another good way to discourage sedentary behavior, Sandon said.

Ebbeling is continuing her research, which was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Charles H. Hood Foundation. She is working on a similar, much larger study.

More information

For 10 more tips on cutting calories, visit the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Cara B. Ebbeling, Ph.D., co-director, obesity research, division of endocrinology, Children's Hospital Boston; Lona Sandon, R.D., assistant professor, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; March 2006, Pediatrics

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