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Children and Sweetened Drinks: What's a Parent to Do?

Trying to trim the sweetened drinks in your child's diet? Here are a few tips that can help.
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WebMD Feature

The kids are home: Their first stop -- grab a sweetened drink from the fridge. It's one of several bad habits that have built a nation of overweight kids. When it comes to their health, children and sweetened beverages are simply a bad match.

Liquid candy -- that's what public health officials call these drinks. Most boys get 15 teaspoons of refined sugar daily, and most girls about 10 teaspoons -- all from sweetened beverages. That's the most sugar kids should be getting from all foods in any day's time, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

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In a nation where one out of every six children is overweight and one out of every three is at risk for being overweight, sweetened drinks are a major health issue.

"Getting kids to avoid sweet drinks - sodas, Gatorade, fruit juice, fruit drink -- will help them lose weight," says Goutham Rao, MD, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Author of the book, Child Obesity: A Parent's Guide to a Fit, Trim, and Happy Child, he adds, "Just that one change will do it."

Children and Sweet Drinks: The Health Crisis

Nearly 90 studies have linked sweetened beverages and children's weight problems. Even one or two sweet drinks a day can cause a problem.

Serving size has increased and "not only do soft drinks have a huge amount of calories, but they don't make a child feel full," Rao tells WebMD. "They still eat what they normally would eat." Kids may even eat more when they drink sweetened beverages. When the body takes in sugar so quickly, insulin spikes and then drops suddenly -- leaving you feeling hungry, Rao explains.

Unless artificial, low-calorie sweeteners are used, all sweet drinks -- like fruitades, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sugary flavored drinks (such as Kool-Aid) -- pack calories. One study found that girls who got lots of sweet drinks before age 9 gained more weight by age 13. They also had prediabetes risk factors -- big waistline, high blood pressure, and low HDL "good" cholesterol.

Indeed, among overweight children and adolescents, pediatricians are seeing health problems they used to find only in adults -- high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels, which are risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

That's not all. Soft drinks are rotting kids' teeth, as numerous studies have shown. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, soft drinks pose a risk of dental caries because of their high sugar content and enamel erosion because of their acidity.And, because kids are drinking more sweetened beverages than milk, they are getting too little calcium for growing teeth and bones, reports the CSPI. That's especially important for growing girls, who are at highest risk of osteoporosis.

The final analysis? Kids need to know that sweetened beverages are bad for their health, say the experts.

That's where parents can make the most difference. By educating kids on the hazards of soft drinks and other sweet drinks -- and stocking the kitchen with the right drinks -- it's possible to short-circuit the connection between children and soft drinks.

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