Obesity in Soda Drinkers May Bubble Up From Genes

Some people may be genetically predisposed to obesity-causing effects of sugary drinks.

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Scientists have long known that soda contributes to obesity—but a new study suggests that some people are more genetically susceptible to the obesity-causing effects of soda and other sugary beverages.

Harvard University scientist Lu Qi says that, in some people, soda may trigger some of the 32 genes that scientists believe make people predisposed to obesity.

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"We found that high intake of sugary beverages amplifies the genetic risk [of obesity] in some people," he says. "If you are at a higher genetic risk for obesity, the more likely drinking soda makes those genes likely to be amplified."

People who were more genetically predisposed to being obese suffered from more ill effects from frequent soda consumption even when adjusted for fitness and eating habits.

"Persons with a greater genetic predisposition may be more susceptible to obesity-inducing effects of sugar-sweetened beverages," the report, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine Friday, says.

Qi says the findings lend further support to legislation designed to reduce soda consumption, such as New York City's recent ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces.

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"Our data supports such a ban of sugar-sweetened beverages," he says. "In general, everybody should reduce their sugary beverages, but their obesity-causing effects appear to be stronger in certain people."

The researchers were unable to tell why soda seemed to be triggering an increase in body mass index in people who were genetically predisposed, but Qi believes that soda's ability to cause certain metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance and inflammation, may be key.

"There's a hint that many of the obesity genes we studied regulate energy spending, and higher intake of sugary beverages may be a major mechanism that inhibits that," he says.

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com