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More Youth Replacing Milk With Sugary Drinks

Result: Less Calcium and Other Nutrients, More Empty Calories
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WebMD Health News

April 4, 2005 -- Many kids give up milk for sodas and fruit drinks as they mature, and their bodies may be paying the price, say researchers.

"Our study found that milk is a primary source of nutrients in a child's diet, but milk consumption steadily declines as children grow older, which may prevent older children and teenagers from consuming the nutrients they need for growth and development," says Mary Murphy, MS, RD, in a news release.

Calories consumed from milk dropped as children matured, while calories from sodas and fruit drinks rose, says the study, which was funded by the Milk Processor Education Program.

Who's Drinking What

What do American kids and teens drink? It depends on their age, says Murphy, who works at ENVIRON Health Sciences Institute in Arlington, Va.

Little kids are the most likely to drink milk, but that often changes as they mature. Milk provides 13% of daily calories for children aged 2-5 years, 9% for those aged 6-11 years, and 6%-7% for teens aged 12-18 years, says the study.

The reverse is true for sodas and fruit drinks; teens drank the most of those sugary beverages. Sodas and fruit drinks account for 7% of daily calories for the youngest kids, 9% for children aged 6-11 years, and 12%-13% for those aged 12-18 years.

The data was based on 1999-2000 government food surveys. Milk included flavored milks. Fruit drinks did not include juices. The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology 2005 conference, held in San Diego.

Calcium Consequences

Milk was a leading source of calcium and other nutrients (phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium) for all age groups. By sidelining milk, older children and teens could fall short in those areas, say the researchers.

Of course, milk isn't the only source of calcium. Some juices and cereals are fortified with it; leafy greens contain some calcium, and supplements are widely available. The nutrient is important throughout life, not just for little kids, health experts say.

Sodas and fruit drinks were only a leading source of vitamin C and made up 35%-58% of added sugars in the kids' diets. Milk was responsible for 1%-2% of added sugars, the study shows.

Milk did provide more fat -- 6%-17% of kids' total fat consumption, compared with less than 1% of total fat for sodas and fruit drinks. But the calories in sodas and fruit drinks had little to offer in terms of nutrition, say the researchers.

Weighty Impact?

Murphy's study didn't get into the issue of childhood obesity. But past research has indicated that kids who down too many sugary drinks gain more weight than their peers who drink less of the same beverages.

In 2003, a study in the Journal of Pediatrics reported that kids who drink more than 12 ounces of sweetened drinks gained significantly more weight than those who drank less than 6 ounces of similar drinks.

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