Cara Ebbeling and Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children's Hospital and colleagues said their study involved 224 overweight or obese ninth- and 10th-graders who regularly drank 1.7 sugary beverages a day.
The year-long study intervention was designed to reduce consumption of these beverages by delivering non-caloric beverages to participants' homes for participants and their families. Members of the control group were given gift cards to buy whatever beverages they wanted.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the experimental group of adolescents -- who virtually eliminated consumption of sugary beverages -- gained 4 fewer pounds and had essentially no body mass index increase compared with the control group. The control group continued to drink sugar-sweetened beverages regularly, but at reduced levels, possibly due to local public health efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption at school, Ebbeling said.
Hispanic adolescents showed the greatest benefit -- gaining 14 fewer pounds than the control group.
"No other single food product has been shown to change body weight by this amount over a year simply through its reduction," Ludwig said in a statement.
"Obesity is a serious and complex public health issue facing our nation and the rest of the world and we all must work together to solve it. We know, and science supports, that obesity is not uniquely caused by any single food or beverage," said a statement by the American Beverage Association.
"Thus, studies and opinion pieces that focus solely on sugar-sweetened beverages, or any other single source of calories, do nothing meaningful to help address this serious issue. The fact remains: Sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving obesity. Americans consume about 617 more calories today than they did in 1970, but more than 90 percent of those incremental calories come from sources other than beverages."