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Sugary drinks linked to weight gain in kids

February 20, 2013

Soda, sports drinks, and 100% fruit juice. These drinks-of-choice raise a red flag in the world of nutrition and health. All three beverages are loaded with sugar, and when consumed in an excess amount, are shown to cause an increase in weight gain among kids.

Wait a second. Sports drinks and 100% fruit juice are often thought of as a healthy alternative to soda, right? Well, when consumed in large amounts, even these drinks can cause as much damage to your kids’ health as soda. These drinks are just one of the many contributing factors to the childhood obesity epidemic that has been a major health concern over the past decade.

Let’s look at some facts.

  • The American Heart Association recommends that toddlers and preschoolers consume no more than 4 teaspoons of added sugar a day, children ages 4 to 8 consume no more than 3 teaspoons, and pre-teens consume a maximum a 5 to 8 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
  • A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. That’s more than TWICE the daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association.
  • In a 16-ounce bottle of apple juice, there are 13 teaspoons of sugar. Still TOO much.
  • As of 2012, 1 in 3 kids are overweight or obese, and 1 in 6 kids are obese!

The Issue

Juice, sports and energy drinks as well as sodas contain well over the recommended daily amount of sugar for kids, causing them to consume more calories than their body needs. Excess calories then lead to weight gain, landing many kids in an unhealthy, and sometimes life-threatening weight category, being called “overweight” and “obese”.

Still don’t believe it? There have been two recent studies published that shows a connection between the consumption of sugary beverages and weight gain.

In the first study, researchers recruited 224 kids who were drinking at least 12 ounces of sugary beverages, or 100% fruit juice, a day. The kids were then divided into two groups. Half of the kids were told to stop drinking sugary beverages and received non-caloric beverages delivered to their home the following year. The other group of kids received no advice on what to drink, and continued to drink sugary beverages in that same year.

What did they find? Overall, the kids who stopped drinking sugary beverages gained four fewer pounds in a year than kids who continued to drink them. And after the one-year intervention, the kids who were previously restricted from sugary beverages began drinking them again on a regular basis, causing the difference in weight loss between the two groups to diminish by the two year check-up. This indicates that long-term change in body weight will require permanent changes in the consumption of sugary beverages.

Similarly, a second study focused on weight gain from both sports drinks and sodas. After examining over 11,000 kids and tracking weight gain over a two-year span, it was found that:

  • Kids gained almost two additional pounds per year for each bottle or can of soda they drank per day. If kids drank two sodas a day, they gained four extra pounds over a year.
  • For each bottle of sports drinks they consumed a day, kids gained an extra 3 ½ pounds over a year.
This study goes to further prove that sports drinks, like sodas and fruit juice, can have a negative impact on a child’s weight and health.

The Takeaway

It’s a fact. Sugary beverages, even those that were previously thought to be healthy, lead to excess caloric intake, which can lead to unnecessary weight gain. While these drinks are okay every now and then, it’s not recommended to make them a part of your family’s daily diet. However, banning these drinks from ever being in your child’s diet could make kids want them more. Instead, you could teach them to practice the phrase, “everything in moderation”.

It’s also important to note that many of these sugary drinks are sold in bottles that contain more than one serving. But what are kids going to do? Drink half the bottle and throw the other half away? Probably not. Teach your kids the meaning of serving sizes and how to read the nutrition labels so that they can become aware of how much sugar they are ACTUALLY consuming.

While decreasing the amount of sugar our kids consume won’t single-handedly solve the obesity epidemic, it will encourage kids to become healthier. And a healthy, happy kid is all we can ask for. 

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