North-east scientists tackling obesity have found that mice put on weight after consuming sugary drinks, but not after tucking into sweet food.
The Aberdeen University researchers believe the findings could provide information on how to solve the increasing problems of obesity and diabetes across the world.
The study, which has been published in Molecular Metabolism, found that when mice were given a sugary drink it led to weight gain, but the same animals who ate the same amount of sugar in a solid form did not put on any weight.
Professor John Speakman, who leads groups at the Aberdeen University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, conducted the study to determine whether the way sugar was consumed could affect the likelihood of gaining weight.
The analysis compared mice who had diets containing 73% of calories from sugar in either a solid standard rodent pellet or liquid form – in drinking water – for eight weeks.
Body weight, body composition, energy intake and expenditure were all monitored, in addition to tests of how well the animals responded to glucose and insulin, a means of measuring susceptibility to diabetes.
The results demonstrated that consumption of sugary water, but not equivalent levels of solid sugar, led to body fat gain, as well as impaired glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, which are markers of increased diabetes risk.
Liquid sugar intake was also associated with greater total intake of calories and greater body fat gain. The same level of sugar in a solid diet did not cause the mice to consume extra calories and so didn’t cause elevated body weight and fatness.
Prof Speakman said: “Obesity, diabetes and other metabolic related disorders remain on the rise globally and it is widely agreed that the main cause of obesity is an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure.
“However, we need to better understand factors that may affect this metabolic dysregulation.
“The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been widely implicated as a contributing factor in obesity and we investigated whether the mode of ingestion (solid or liquid) had different impacts on body weight regulation in mice.
“There has been a lot of concern recently over the intake of sugary drinks, and if humans respond in the same way mice do, these concerns may be entirely justified.”
He and his colleagues will continue to investigate the links.