Kids Gulping Down More Sugary Beverages

MONDAY June 2, 2008 -- Children and teens are gulping down more sugary beverages and fruit juices than ever before, a new study has found.

Children aged 2 to 19 now take in up to 15 percent of their total daily calories from drinks that contain sugar, a finding that confirms previous research and suggests consumption is rising.

It's known from previous studies that children and teens in the United States drink a lot of sugary beverages, said study author Dr. Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City.

"We show that the consumption trend continues to increase," she said, and that it's occurring mostly at home.

Experts recommend restricting both sugary beverages such as soft drinks and 100 percent fruit juices, to avoid excess "empty" calories.

Wang's team analyzed 24-hour dietary recall records from children or their parents, trying to determine how many calories a day came from sugary beverages and 100 percent fruit juices.

They used data from two national surveys, conducted from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2004. The first survey had almost 10,000 participants, the second, almost 11,000.

Overall, daily calories from sugary beverages or 100 percent fruit juices rose from 242 calories a day to 270 during the two study periods.

"We see the largest increases happening among kids 6 to 11," Wang said. The increase in sugary beverage intake was statistically significant in boys but not in girls. Boys' averages went from 228 to 259 calories; girls' went from 177 to 186.

Wang's team also looked at where the kids drink the beverage. Most consumption -- up to 70 percent -- took place at home, suggesting that schools' efforts to restrict sales of sugary beverages are having limited impact on consumption.

The Juice Products Association took exception to the findings.

"We take very strong issue with statements in this paper which suggest 100 percent fruit juices are without nutritional value and contribute to weight gain," the industry group said in a statement. "In fact, a recently published scientific literature review has concluded that 100 percent juices do not contribute to children being overweight, even when consumed in amounts that exceed American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. That review paper concludes, 'Overall, the data support the consumption of 100 percent fruit juice in moderate amounts, and this may be an important strategy to help children meet the current recommendations for fruit.' "

In another study published in the same issue of the journal, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that even parents who recognized their child was overweight did not take "healthy" actions at home -- such as providing plentiful supplies of fruits and vegetables -- to help their child.

Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer and her team evaluated the behaviors of parents whose teens participated in Project EAT, analyzing data from 314 parent-teen pairs.

"Basically, we compared parents of overweight children who recognized their children were overweight with parents of overweight children who did not recognize their children were overweight to see if knowing your child is overweight is associated with better behavior," Neumark-Sztainer said.

They asked parents about several behaviors, such as providing more fruits and vegetables and fewer soft drinks, salty snacks and candy; having more meals as a family; watching less television during dinner and encouraging children to make healthy food choices and be active. They also asked the parents if they encouraged their children to diet.

The only difference? Those who recognized their child was overweight were more apt to encourage their child to diet. "And that turns out to be bad," Neumark-Sztainer said. "Those kids actually weighed more five years later."

Both studies are concerning, said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and immediate past president of the American Dietetic Association.

"The fact that parents who know their children are overweight don't provide positive guidance, healthier food options and encouragement to get physical activity in is a big concern in that parents' behaviors eventually become their children's behaviors," she said. "It would seem that parents need more education on how to encourage healthy living."

What should parents do? Wang doesn't advocate eliminating sugary drinks but being educated about their role. "Be aware there are a lot of calories [in the beverages], and kids need to exercise a lot to burn it off," she said.

Sweetened beverages and naturally sweetened fruit drinks should be limited to four to six ounces a day for kids aged 1 to 6 and eight to 12 ounces for those aged 7 to 18, Wang said. In her study, the daily average consumption from 1999 to 2004 was 25 ounces.

"Make health eating and activity habits a priority for the family," Diekman stressed.

More information

To learn more about healthy eating habits, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Posted: June 2008


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