June 3, 2008 -- Numerous studies have linked sweetened drinks to children's weight problems. We know that fruit juice, sodas, and other sugar-sweetened beverages pack a caloric punch. But how much is too much, and what role should these drinks play in a child's diet?
Two new studies analyzed dietary intake information from nationally represented surveys about children's drinking habits. One study shows that children and adolescents are drinking more juice and sugary drinks. The other study shows that children who drink 100% fruit juice are not more likely to be overweight than those who do not drink 100% fruit juice.
More Calories Coming From Sweet Drinks
The first study, published in the June edition of Pediatrics, looks at trends -- what children drink, how much, and how it's changing. Data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2004.
The study shows that the number of calories children and adolescents (aged 2 to 19) get from sugar-sweetened drinks and 100% fruit juices is on the rise:
- Children and adolescents get 10% to 15% of total calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juice.
- Children aged 6 to 11 saw a 20% increase in caloric intake from sugar-sweetened drinks.
Soda contributed 67% of all sugar-sweetened drink calories among adolescents.
During that same time periods, sports drink consumption tripled among adolescents.
Home Is Where the Soda Is
The study also shows that many of these drinks are drunk in the home:
- On a typical weekday, 55% to 70% of sugar-sweetened drinks were guzzled at home.
- 7% to 15% of sugar-sweetened drinks were sipped at schools.
Study researcher Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, and colleagues recommend that pediatricians be aware of the trends to help parents "identify suboptimal dietary patterns" to help keep kids healthy.
Love has "no problem with children drinking fruit juice to meet their nutritional needs." She says one downside of drinking fruit juice is it moves out of the body so quickly, so children get hungrier faster. Love recommends 100% fruit juice and pieces of whole fruit as part of a healthy diet.
Juice Not Linked to Extra Weight
In the second study, published in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researcher Theresa Nicklas, DrPH, of Baylor College of Medicine, and colleagues compared 100% fruit juice drinkers to those who did not drink 100% fruit juice, using data from NHANES of children aged 2 to 11 from 1999 to 2002.
Here's what they found:
- 100% fruit juice drinkers who drank more than 6 ounces had higher levels of carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, magnesium, and iron than those who did not drink 100% fruit juice.
- Those who drank more than 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice also ate more whole fruit and less fat and added sugar than those who didn't drink 100% juice. There was no reduction of dairy, vegetables, meat, and whole grain intake in children who drank 100% fruit juice compared with those who didn't.
- Those who didn't drink 100% fruit juice drank more sodas and sugar-added fruit drinks.
- Drinking 100% fruit juice was not linked to being overweight or obese in children aged 2 to 11.
Sue Taylor is a registered dietitian with the Juice Products Association. That group provided a grant to Baylor College of Medicine, in part funding the study.
Taylor says fruit juice has gotten a "bad rep."
"Obesity is such a complex issue that it's not accurate to single out one food as a problem," she says.
Taylor notes that "even though children consumed a few more calories than those who didn't drink juice, they (the juice drinkers) had a healthier overall diet."
Tips for Keeping in Balance
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that children and adolescents limit 100% fruit juice to 4 to 6 ounces of fruit juice a day for children aged 1 to 6 and 8 to 12 ounces of fruit juice a day for children aged 7 to 18.
- Emphasize whole fruits instead. You get the juice plus the nutrients in the flesh of the fruit.
- Don't encourage young children to drink a big glass of juice at the front end of the meal. That can cause them to fill up and not have room for a nutritionally balanced meal.
- Check the label. If it's 100% fruit juice, the federal government requires it say so on the label.