Soda The Culprit In Kids' Obesity?

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New research points to soft drinks as the leading cause of childhood obesity. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay talks about how all those extra calories can add up fast.

What makes childhood obesity so dangerous?

The danger is that overweight children develop the same problems as overweight adults. Problems such as insulin resistance, high cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease and a host of other problems.

Research published Wednesday in the Journal of Pediatrics places a big part of the blame for child obesity on the sugar in soda and sweetened drinks. Consider the numbers:

An average can of soda contains 165 calories, and a cup of sweetened juice contains about 100 calories.

The researchers say that the typical teen consumes approximately two 12-ounce cans of soft drinks per day, which adds up to 20 teaspoons of sugar or a whopping 300 calories.

That amount of sugar from just two cans of soda is about 20 percent of daily calorie intake, twice the recommended limit of 10 percent of calories from sugar. And if you add in additional sugars from sweetened drinks at home or school, that daily added calorie intake can easily go up as high as 40 percent of daily calories.

Researchers say altering calorie intake by just 100 calories a day (or 8 ounces of soft drinks) would be enough of an effort to prevent excessive weight gain.

It's natural for kids to want to consume drinks that taste good, and trying to get them to cut out soft drinks and other sugar-rich drinks altogether can be difficult, if not completely unrealistic. The researchers say that if kids can start making healthier choices, they also can compensate for the added calories from the occasional soft drink by increasing physical activity.

According to the researchers, the consumption of soft drinks in schools is thought to be a major contributor to obesity, with many schools contracting with soft drink companies and receiving incentives and profits from the arrangement.

The researchers say schools can help reduce calorie intake by concentrating more on nutrition classes, healthy meal programs, physical education and after-school sports. Vending machines can be removed or offer only healthy drinks and snacks.

As for other strategies that parents can use to prevent child obesity, Senay suggests teaching your children about healthy eating and exercise now, and setting a good example yourself. The best way to prevent diabetes is through good diet and regular exercise. The earlier in life you develop good habits, the better.