Sugary Drinks and Children (and Fruit Juice too)

Today I turned on the computer and was greeted with a slew of headlines talking about 5-year olds, soda, and obesity. They were all reporting on a study conducted by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The study found that 5-year olds who drink sugar-sweetened beverages (such as sodas, sports drinks, or juices) daily were more likely to be obese than 5-year olds drinking these beverages less often.

While some may consider this breaking news, I hope others consider it common sense. After all, if soda is linked to obesity in adults—it shouldn’t be a surprise that it affects children as well.

Sugar-sweetened beverages, which is a broad category including soda, sweetened teas, sports drinks, some fruit juices, energy drinks, and blended coffee drinks, are a pervasive source of empty calories. Researchers now say that a fifth of the calories Americans consume come from drinks. Calories from these beverages are nutritionally empty and don’t make you feel full—if over consumed, they can easily lead to obesity.

Another concern with these beverages is diabetes. For instance, a study in the journal, “Diabetes Care,” found that people who drank sodas daily were 25% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The damage that soda can inflict on your teeth (because of the sugar) should also be recognized. Cavities are painful and expensive; but perhaps more importantly, your adult teeth are not replaceable—you should do your best to keep them healthy.

But the problems with soft drinks do not revolve around sugar alone. Caffeine is an additive in many sodas (as well as other types of sugary drinks) which has caused concern among many health professionals. Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system and many scientists are concerned about the effects this stimulation may have on children’s developing brains.

In addition to this, caffeine is well known to cause difficulty concentrating and sleeping. Caffeine, combined with the heaps of sugar present in soda, becomes a perfect recipe for hyperactivity (one thing kids these days don’t need more of). Caffeine and phosphoric acid (which is a common ingredient in colas) are also associated with bone loss and low bone density.

Childhood obesity and these other health issues are very sad. No one wants to see their kid struggle with obesity or diabetes from an early age, and subsequently experience all of the health troubles associated with it. To make matters worse, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are such an unnecessary part of our diet. They offer us nothing positive nutritionally, yet we spend millions of dollars on them each year and suffer many negative consequences health wise.

As adults, we need to set good examples for the children around us. We need to teach them to make healthy choices, which will eventually turn into good habits. The choices and habits they learn early in life will have a huge impact as they grow and become adults. Sodas aren’t the only problem, but they are a big one. Teaching kids to drink water instead of empty calories is a good place to start.

Water is the only liquid our bodies really need. Besides being necessary for us to live, water can help us control our calorie intake by keeping us full. It is used to flush our bodies of toxins and can even help you lose weight.  In many ways, it is the opposite of soda.

Each day, we should try to drink half an ounce for every pound that we weigh. That means someone who weighs 160 lbs should drink about 80 oz of water (about 10 cups). Water has no negative side effects and is virtually free. By drinking more—and teaching our kids to do the same—we can only benefit.

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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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