July 1, 2003 -- Children who slurp down a lot of soft drinks and fruit juice may not only gain weight, but they may also be sacrificing valuable nutrition. A new study shows too many sugary drinks may be fueling the increase in childhood obesity and putting children at risk for health problems in the future.
The study showed that children who drank more than 12 ounces of sweetened drinks, such as soft drinks, fruit juice, bottled tea, or drinks made from flavored powders, gained significantly more weight than those who drank less than 6 ounces of the sweet stuff per day.
"These findings suggest that sweetened drinks may be a significant factor in the increase in obesity among children in the United States," says researcher David Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell University in New York, in a news release. "And the fact that these drinks and fruit juice displace milk is dangerous, especially for girls, who need a strong supply of calcium before they mature or they will be at risk for osteoporosis after age 60."
In the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers tracked the amount of food and beverages consumed by 30 children between the ages of 6 and 13 for four to eight weeks while they were enrolled in a day camp.
Where the Calories Are
Researchers found that the more sugary drinks the children consumed, the less milk they drank and the more weight they gained. When given a choice between sweetened drinks and milk, the children chose the sugary drinks, and caregivers rarely offered milk at snack time or at a meal when sweetened drinks were also served.
Despite the high calorie content of sweetened soft drinks and fruit juices, researchers say children who drank sugary drinks did not reduce the quantity or calorie content of the foods they ate, so their daily calorie intake rose and they gained weight.
Researchers say the findings are in line with previous studies that found excessive sweetened drink consumption adversely affects nutrition and promotes childhood obesity, but it's the first to monitor children's food and drink consumption for an extended period of time.
The study also found that:
- Children who drank more than 16 ounces of sweetened drinks consumed 4 fewer ounces of milk per day than children who avoided sweetened drinks, which translates to 20% less phosphorus, 19% less protein and magnesium, 16% less calcium, and 10% less vitamin A per day.
- Children were served smaller quantities of milk when sweetened drinks were offered in the excessive amounts.
- Children who drank sweetened soft drinks and fruit juices consumed 244 more calories per day than on days when they didn't drink them, but their food intake differed by only about 2 ounces on those days.
- Children who drank more than 16 ounces of sweetened drinks per day gained an average of 2.5 pounds during the study, compared with a 0.7 to 1 pound weight gain in children who drank 6 to 16 ounces of sugary drinks daily.
Researchers say the key to getting kids to drink milk may be as simple as offering it without other alternatives. The study showed that when milk is offered at meals, children drank it 96% of the time, but when it was offered along with sweetened drinks it was only consumed 42% of the time and in smaller amounts than when offered alone.