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Obesity 2012 opened with keynote debate

from Sonja K. Billes

This year's conference opened with a debate on the role of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in obesity. Both arguments touched on an underlying and timely question: What is the appropriate application of public policy in curbing the rising incidence of obesity?

Dr. Frank Hu provided evidence that decreasing SSB consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity, while Dr. David Allison offered the dissenting opinion. Dr. Hu cited studies showing a significant association between increased SSB consumption and body weight gain among adults and children. Dr. Allison argued that correlation does not imply causation. A recurring theme in both arguments is a recent meta-analysis of 6 studies on the effect of SSBs on body weight by Mattes et al., 2011, which showed that consuming SSBs resulted in dose-dependent weight gain. However, removal of SSBs did not reduce BMI.

Ultimately, this debate comes down to a matter of public policy, as discussed by this year's recipient of the George A. Bray Founders Award, Dr. James O. Hill. Dr. Hill highlighted the idea that singling out one factor, such as consumption of SSBs, is no way to target diseases like obesity that are comprised of numerous behavioral and environmental issues. While reducing consumption of SSBs may help some individuals curb weight gain, we're only chipping away at the tip of the iceberg. As to whether you should cut back on SSBs? Dr. Louis Aronne asks, "What are you going to give your kids?" The current science may still be debatable, but I don't think even Dr. Allison would deny where it's headed. more

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