Sweet Drinks: What¿s Best for Kids?

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

(Do your kids
love fruit juice? Take our poll on WebMD's
Parenting: Preschoolers and Grade Schoolers board.)

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

  • 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

During that same time periods, sports drink consumption tripled among

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

  • 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.

WebMD spoke with registered dietitian Page Love, who works with overweight
and obese
children . She says it's best for parents to limit sodas, sports drinks, and
other drinks with added sugar.

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


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 f Medicine, in part funding the

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.


By Kelley Colihan
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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