Excess Sweet Drinks Put Kids at Risk

Drinking Lots of Soda, Juice Steers Children Toward Obesity, Diabetes

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 22, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 22, 2006 -- Drinking lots of soda and juice drinks may put kids' health at risk -- leading to poor health and teen obesity as young as age 13, a U.S. study shows.

The findings come from a study of 154 girls seen every two years since age 5. Researchers included Alison K. Ventura, Leann L. Birch, PhD, and Eric Loken, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University.

By age 13, 14% of the girls studied already showed high risk of developing metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of ominous risk factors that indicate a person could be headed toward heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes.

These girls were at or near the danger level for three metabolic syndrome risk factors -- big waistline, high blood pressure high blood pressure, and a low level of good HDL cholesterol.

What made these high-health-risk girls different from other girls?

Their parents tended to be more obese and to have more obesity-related health problems than other parents. Indeed, the high-risk girls gained more weight -- and gained weight faster -- than other girls.

However, the only significant difference in their diet was that, at young ages, they drank more sugary beverages than other girls.

"We found the highest risk group was consuming more servings of these sweetened beverages at age 5 to 9, compared to other groups," Ventura tells WebMD. "At the later ages it was more soda, but in the earlier ages it was things like 10% fruit juices, sports drinks, and flavored beverages with added sugar."

Ventura and colleagues report their findings in the December issue of Pediatrics.

Kids' Health at Risk

At age 9, the high-risk girls drank 50% more servings of sweetened beverages each day than the lowest-risk girls.

That doesn't mean sodas and other sugary drinks are bad. It just means too many kids get too much of them, says nutritionist Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"There is no kid-sized soda bottle, and few 6-ounce glasses at home," Bonci tells WebMD. "So kids get used to drinking soda in whatever size glass they have at home, whatever size bottle or can -- and that is not a single serving, it's a tureen.

"And no child needs to be consuming a tureen of soda," she says.

Plus, unlike other calorie-rich foods, drinking a zillion calories in a soft drink doesn't leave you feeling too full to take in still more calories.

"Nobody drinks half of a 20-ounce bottle of soda and says, 'Whoa, I'm stuffed!'" Bonci says. "The kids consume a lot of calories and are not feeling full. So every other aspect of food intake may stay the same."

Moreover, Bonci says, kids who drink sugared drinks aren't drinking milk. So too many sweet drinks also displace healthy components of a child's diet.

Ventura says the study should be a wake-up call -- if not a fire alarm -- for parents.

"Metabolic syndrome is something that develops before we see it. So parents should be aware of these things right from the start," she says.

"What kids are eating at young ages does have an impact. Even as soon as age 13, we are seeing the effects of these lifestyle choices," says Bonci.

The American Beverage Association, a trade group that represents the beverage industry, did not respond to WebMD's requests for an interview in time for publication.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Ventura, A. Pediatrics, December 2006; vol 118: pp 2434-2442. Alison K. Ventura, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa. Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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