A study published today in the British Medical Journal has concluded that schools programmes aimed at reducing soft drink consumption could have an effect in reducing obesity in children.

A study was made to see if the Christchurch Obesity Prevention Project in Schools (CHOPPS), aimed at reducing consumption of carbonated drinks, could prevent excessive weight gain in children.

Six primary schools in Christchurch, Dorset, England were the subject of the testing, with 644 children aged 7-11 years participating in a focused educational programme on nutrition over one school year.

Half the classes participated in special classroom sessions discouraging the consumption of both regular and diet sodas and stressing the benefits of a healthy diet, while the other half didn't. The main outcomes measured were drink consumption and the number of overweight and obese children.

The report found that consumption of carbonated drinks over three days decreased by 0.6 glasses (average glass size 250 ml) a day in the intervention group but increased by 0.2 glasses in the control. At 12 months the percentage of overweight and obese children increased in the control group by 7.5%, compared with a decrease in the intervention group of 0.2%.

On its website the BMJ concluded: "A targeted, school-based education programme produced a modest reduction in the number of carbonated drinks consumed, which was associated with a reduction in the number of overweight and obese children."

However, in a statement today the British Soft Drinks association said carbonated drinks provide only a fraction of children's daily calories and therefore shouldn't be blamed for the childhood obesity epidemic.