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Diet Soda Surprise Diet Soda Surprise

January 2006

by Will Sansom

Do diet-soda drinkers avoid gaining weight? The answer might surprise you.

Statistics from the San Antonio Heart Study, a longtime epidemiologic study conducted at the Health Science Center, paradoxically suggest that the more diet sodas a person drinks, the greater the chance he or she will become overweight or obese. Extra weight is a strong risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.

"On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese," said Sharon Fowler, M.P.H., faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology. She presented the finding at the American Diabetes Association’s 65th Annual Scientific Sessions.

Fowler’s colleague, Ken Williams, M.S., assistant professor in clinical epidemiology, analyzed questionnaire and health outcome data from participants in the San Antonio Heart Study, which began in 1979. Michael P. Stern, M.D., professor and chief of clinical epidemiology, is the study’s principal investigator.

Williams detected a "dose-response" effect: those who drank the most diet soft drinks had the highest incidence of weight gain. The researchers said it could be that participants whose weight already was increasing switched to diet sodas to try to stop their weight gain. "What our analyses indicate for sure is that drinking diet soft drinks will not protect a person from the health effects of the rest of his or her lifestyle," Fowler said.

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