There may be a better way to think about daily drinking habits that impact health conditions such as obesity and diabetes, according to a new study by Virginia Tech researchers. 

The researchers have developed the Healthy Beverage Index – a scoring system to evaluate the healthiness of what and how much people drink each day. They found that a higher index score correlates to better cholesterol levels, lowered risk of hypertension, and in men, lowered blood pressure.

In the future, consumers and health care practitioners may be able to access the index online or as a mobile application to evaluate beverage-intake quality.

“The goal was to develop an index that would help consumers by providing specific information about the types and amounts of beverages that could be consumed to promote optimal health,” said Brenda M. Davy, a professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. 

Davy developed the index with Virginia Tech colleague Kiyah J. Duffey, director of Global Scientific Affairs at LA Sutherland group and an adjunct faculty member of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

The new index was published this week in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“With various recommendations for beverage intake, and recent attention on sugar-sweetened beverages, we thought consumers might be wondering what they should be drinking,” said Davy, who is also an affiliate of the Fralin Translational Obesity Research Center. “We know that consumers want guidelines that are specific to the types and amounts of foods and drinks to consume.” 

Using the index as a guide, consumers can earn up to 100 points by engaging in healthy activities such as consuming water for at least 20 percent of one’s daily fluid intake, or consuming less than 10 percent of daily calories in drinks. Overall, a higher score indicates a healthier beverage pattern and, ultimately, better health.

“This is the first attempt to understand how overall beverage intake patterns affect our health,” said Barry Popkin, a distinguished professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the research. “The results indicate the potential for this to be a path-breaking approach for individuals as well as for medical professionals to use to evaluate and advise their patients on how to shift toward a healthier beverage plan.”

Davy and Duffey developed the index based in part on the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which include recommendations for total daily energy coming from drinks, meeting daily fluid requirements, and consuming within recommended limits of various kinds of drinks like milk, juice, sodas, coffee, and tea. 

“There are many ways that a person could achieve a high HBI score,” Duffey said, “but one clear example is by drinking six glasses of water, two cups of unsweetened coffee, one cup of unsweetened tea, one glass of low-fat milk, and five ounces of wine. A person doing this would also meet their daily fluid requirements, consume the recommended amount of water, and have fewer than 10 percent of their daily calories coming from sugary drinks.”

To evaluate the index, Davy and Duffey used data compiled from more than 16,000 U.S. adults in the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which are a series of in-depth interviews and physical exams conducted every two years in the United States. 

The researchers scored these individuals using the Healthy Beverage Index, and then compared these scores with cardio-metabolic risk factors, including weight, hypertension, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, which increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. 

They found that the average score was 63 out of 100. The biggest differences between low and high scores came from individuals not consuming enough water, consuming too many calories from beverages, and not consuming enough fluid overall. 

The team also plans to evaluate the index to see if improvements in drinking patterns and Healthy Beverage Index score are associated with beneficial health changes over time.



Written by Cassandra Hockman, communications coordinator at the Fralin Life Science Institute.
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