Skinny on soda: It makes kids fat

U. ROCHESTER (US) — Empty calories, like those in soda and fruit juice with little to no nutritional value, now make up about 40 percent of the energy consumed by children in the United States.

“These statistics are very concerning for the future health of children, especially in terms of their potential for developing heart disease early in life due to childhood obesity,” says Rae-Ellen Kavey, professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester.

“We all develop our food preferences in childhood. Children who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages including fruit juice are at risk to develop obesity and will find it hard to break the habit of consuming these empty calories in the future.”

The top five sources of calories for children are grain-based desserts, such as cookies, pizza, soda, yeast breads, and chicken, adding up to about 40 percent of the diet, according to a new study, published in the Journal of the American Dietitic Association.

Between 1989 and 1991, children consumed about 6.5 percent of their calories from sugar-sweetened drinks, according to an analysis of the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals.

The current study shows that children now consume more than 11 percent of their calories from sugary drinks.

Kavey says the increase in empty calories coming from drinks is particularly concerning because liquid calories don’t satisfy hunger as well as other foods, causing children to consume even more calories.

Because of excessive weight gain associated with high consumption of sugary drinks, children who develop obesity are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and consequently, early cardiovascular disease, Kavey says.

Children between 2- and 18 years-old should drink mainly water or skim milk, and that the benefits of fruits and vegetables are better consumed in solid form than as juice. Children who are always offered water or milk will carry those taste preferences into adulthood, she adds.

“While sugar-sweetened beverages are not the only factor in the childhood obesity epidemic, they are a major contributing factor and families can work to cut them out of their diets themselves,” Kavey says.

“Families who need more assistance tackling their calorie-consumption issues, should talk to their primary care provider and, if needed, enlist the help of a registered dietitian.”

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