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Pants Too Tight? Could Be That Diet Soda

Four glasses of cola on ice

For older adults who think drinking diet soda helps their waistline, this will be hard to swallow: New research suggests that the more you drink of those artificially sweetened beverages, the bigger your belly grows.

A new study of adults age 65-plus found that those who drank diet soda daily gained triple the inches of those who never drank it.

The study is the latest to find that diet soda doesn’t actually help us diet. Instead, it may have the opposite effect, making us crave sweets more, which can lead to weight gain. It may also disrupt gut bacteria, a study last year found, leading to glucose intolerance in some people and increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes.

“People may be sabotaging their own health if they use diet sodas to protect themselves from gaining weight,” study author Sharon Fowler, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, told HealthDay.

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Previous studies have looked at diet soda consumption in middle-aged and younger adults. The University of Texas researchers wanted to “fill the age gap,” Fowler said, by looking at the soda’s effect on the health of those 65 and older.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, followed about 750 adults for nearly a decade. Those who drank diet soda daily had to let out their belts to accommodate the 3.16 inches they gained over the 9.4 years of follow-up. Compare that to less than an inch for non-soda drinkers and 1.83 inches for occasional diet soda drinkers.

As dramatic as this sounds, the research is observational. It does not necessarily prove that diet soda alone caused those bellies to expand. The researchers did not track what the subjects ate, so the daily soda group could have been ordering triple cheeseburgers and fries and then trying to cut calories with a diet drink, while the non-soda group was eating more kale salad and grilled chicken. We just don’t know.

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A statement from the American Beverage Association, an industry trade group that would like us to keep drinking those sodas, criticized the study, saying it looked “at an aging population who are already at risk of weight gain and cardiovascular disease and then made conclusions based on associations.” Yes, the findings were associational, but the whole point of the study was to look specifically at those 65 and up, so the objection to the age group is meaningless.

The association also added that “many trying to lose or control their weight look for ways to reduce calories, including with their beverage choices.”

Photo: ValentynVolkov/iStock

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