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Sugar-sweetened beverage intake increases visceral fat.

Subcutaneous fat is stored just beneath the skin. Commonly associated with a “pear” shape, subcutaneous fat may protect against some diseases. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is stored in the abdominal cavity close to internal organs such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. An excess of visceral fat, often referred to as central obesity or abdominal obesity, is commonly associated with an “apple” shape and an increased risk of developing many chronic diseases. Findings from a 2016 study suggest that sugar-sweetened beverage intake increases visceral fat deposition.

Sugar-sweetened beverages include commonly consumed products such as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and other beverages that contain added sugars. Many sugar-sweetened beverages exceed the recommended maximum daily added sugar intake of 25 grams in a single serving. They are the leading contributor to sugar intake among people living in the United States.

The investigation involved 1,160 participants enrolled in the Third Generation of the Framingham Heart Study who underwent repeated computed tomography scans (approximately six years apart) to assess the amount of fat in their abdominal region, including subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Participants provided information about their dietary intake, physical activity, overall health, and whether they smoked. Investigators categorized the participants according to their sugar-sweetened beverage or diet soda intake, ranging from non-consumers (drinking none to less than one serving per month) to daily consumers (drinking one or more servings per day.

They found that sugar-sweetened beverage intake was associated with visceral fat gain in a dose-dependent manner, with daily consumers gaining 29 percent more visceral fat over a six-year period than non-consumers. These findings held true even after accounting for the participants' age, gender, physical activity, body mass index, and other factors. Drinking diet soda was not associated with visceral fat gain.

These findings suggest that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases visceral fat, potentially contributing to an increased risk of chronic disease. Learn more about sugar-sweetened beverages in our overview article.

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