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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.

Children and Soft Drinks: Making Changes

For kids without a weight problem, one sweetened beverage per day -- as part of a well-balanced diet -- is fine, says Sarah Krieger, RD, LD, MPH, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "If children are maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and are active, one soda is OK."

The American Beverage Association agrees. "No single food or beverage is a unique contributor to obesity," says Tracey Halliday, a spokeswoman for the association. "Obesity is a serious and complex problem that is best addressed by living a balanced lifestyle -- consuming a variety of foods and beverages in moderation and getting regular physical activity. Quite simply, all calories count, regardless of the source."

If your child has a tendency to gain weight, however, it's best to keep these beverages out of the house. "Keep it for parties, since for most young kids that's about once a week," says Krieger, who is also lead instructor for children's weight management classes at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Also, limit other sweet drinks -- including 100% fruit juice. "Yes it's healthy, but it can have as many calories as a soda. One serving a day is OK, but that's all," she says.

In schools, there will be far fewer such drinks in vending machines, due to a joint effort between the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the American Beverage Association. "We are working together to provide students with even more low-calorie and nutritious beverages," Halliday says.

While that's a good start, "we need to empower kids to make their own decisions," Krieger tells WebMD. "Kids need to learn that too much soda and sweet drinks is bad for our bodies. Getting them to change does not happen overnight. But it can happen with small steps."

Getting kids to switch to diet drinks is one step. That saves 150 calories a day -- the number of calories in a can of sweetened soda, Krieger tells WebMD. She offers more tips:

  • Dilute grape juice, cranberry juice, Gatorade, and Powerade with club soda -- about 50-50. Young kids love the bubbles.
  • Stock single-serving drinks at home: low-fat chocolate milk, flavored waters, and artificially sweetened 10-calorie juices. Encourage kids to take these at home and when they head out the door.
  • Keep a pitcher of decaffeinated iced tea in the fridge. Teens love it.

Krieger even offers rewards to kids to get them to quit drinking sodas. In the weight management classes she teaches, the promise of favorite CDs and other prizes help entice children to quit soft drinks. "Rewards work," she tells WebMD.

When talking to girls about calcium, don't talk about bones or osteoporosis, Krieger advises. "Girls that age don't think about their bones. They won't listen. You need to talk about effects on their general health."

Also, "adolescent girls don't like guzzling milk," says Krieger. To ensure that girls get sufficient calcium, encourage switching from sodas to low-fat flavored milk, like chocolate milk. "Get them to eat low-fat yogurt, cereal with milk, scrambled eggs with milk."

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Reviewed on July 18, 2007

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