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Kids Are Getting Too Much Fruit Juice

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WebMD Health News

May 7, 2001 -- Fruit juice tastes sweet and kids love to drink it. But for many, it's become too much of a good thing -- leading to some serious health problems. In a revised policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents need to cut back on how much juice their infants, toddlers, young children -- even older children -- are drinking.

Editor's Note: Food Pyramid Replaced

In June 2011, the USDA replaced the food pyramid with a new plate icon.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of fruit juice, fruit drinks, and sodas being consumed by children of all ages," says study author William Cochran, MD, associate professor of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at the Geisinger Clinic in Danville, Pa. Cochran is a member of the AAP's Committee on Nutrition.

"Juice is a healthy food when taken in appropriate amounts," he tells WebMD. "But juice is basically water and carbohydrates, and too much can cause many health problems." Among them: malnourishment and stunted growth, tooth decay, obesity, and chronic diarrhea.

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The policy statement outlines the difference between fruit juice and juice drinks. To be labeled as a fruit juice, the FDA mandates that a product be 100% fruit juice. In general, juice drinks contain between 10% and 99% juice as well as added sweeteners, flavors, and sometimes fortifiers such as vitamin C or calcium.

The good news about fruit juices: some have high contents of potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C; some are fortified with vitamin C, which may have beneficial long-term health effects, such as decreasing the risk of cancer and heart disease. Also, when drinks that contain vitamin C are consumed with a meal, they can increase iron absorption by twofold, says Cochran. And juice contains no fat or cholesterol.

The downside: Many fruit juices contain twice the amounts of carbohydrates that human milk and standard infant formulas have, Cochran says. These are in the form of sucrose, fructose, glucose and sorbitol -- all sugars. Unless the pulp is included, it contains no fiber either. Also, fruit juice contains only a small amount of protein and minerals.

And although highly-promoted by manufacturers, calcium-fortified juices have approximately the same calcium content as milk -- but lack other nutrients present in milk and formula, which are important for bone development.

The AAP's recommendations:

  • Juice should not be given to infants under 6 months of age.
  • After 6 months of age, infants should not get juice from bottles or cups that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day.
  • Infants should not get fruit juice at bedtime.
  • For children aged 1-6, intake of fruit juice should be limited to four to six ounces a day.
  • For children 7-18, juice intake should be between eight and 12 ounces a day.
  • All children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits.

When infants take in large amounts of juice instead of breast milk or formula -- or when toddlers drink juice instead of milk or other foods -- the risk is malnourishment and improper physical development, including short stature, says Cochran.

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