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Sweet Drinks Make Preschoolers Gain Weight

Just One or Two Sodas or Juice Drinks Daily Add Pounds
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 7, 2005 -- For preschoolers at risk for weight problems, even one or two soft drinks a day adds too many pounds, new research shows. It's time to cut back on sweet drinks of all sorts -- sodas and fruit juices, researchers say.

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

With so many overweight children -- all facing serious health problems -- researchers are examining every dietary factor to figure out an attack plan, writes lead researcher Jean A. Welsh, MPH, RN, with the CDC's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Researchers say excess weight in children is associated with numerous medical problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, lung problems, and psychological and social problems. Overweight children are more likely to be overweight adults.

Fruit drinks and soft drinks are a large part of the problem, writes Welsh. Studies have shown that between 1977 and 1997, 68% more carbonated soft drinks -- and 42% more fruit juices -- were consumed. This may be a factor in the increasing epidemic of obesity in children. Another study linked daily servings of high-calorie, sugar-sweetened drinks with a 60% increased risk of obesity among kids.

Among preschool children, earlier studies have looked at fruit juice. In one study, children ages 2 to 5 -- who had more than 12 ounces of fruit juice a day -- were more likely to be obese than those who consumed less (32% vs. 9%).

But what about other sweet drinks? This is the first study to examine that obesity link, says Welsh.

More than 10,000 children -- all between 2 and 3 years old -- took part in the CDC study. All had their height and weight checked at the study's beginning. All told researchers about the types of foods they preferred, including high-fat foods, sweet foods, and sweet drinks including juices containing vitamin C, other juices, fruit drinks, and sodas.

One year later, researchers checked in on the kids -- again checking on height, weight, and how often they had various foods, including soft drinks and fruit juices.

For normal-weight children, it appeared that drinking sweet drinks was associated with the risk of becoming overweight.

In children at risk of becoming overweight, those who drank one to two sweet drinks a day doubled their risk of becoming overweight.

BMI is used as a measure of weight -- underweight, overweight, and risk for overweight. It is based on the age and sex of the child in comparison to similar children. Being overweight means being heavier than 95% of children within an age category. Being at risk for overweight means being heavier than 85% of children within an age category.

Cutting soft drinks and fruit juices from young children's diets is one strategy in protecting them from obesity, Welsh writes.

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