Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
The researchers studied nearly 11,000 children ages 2 and 3 living in Missouri. Their families were taking part in a nutrition program for low-income households. The researchers measured the children's height and weight and asked their families to record the children's daily consumption of sweet drinks during a four-week period at the start of the study.
Sweet drinks included sodas such as colas, fruit drinks such as Kool-Aid, and fruit juices such as orange juice. The parents reported that their children tended to drink more fruit juices than other types of sweet drinks. The children's height and weight were reassessed after a year.
It was found that children who were at risk for being overweight or were already overweight at the start of the study, and who consumed one to two sweet drinks a day, doubled their risk for being seriously overweight a year later. Children who were underweight or normal weight who consumed sweet beverages did not have the same risk.
Even controlling for other factors such as the amount of dietary fat consumed, age and gender of the children, their racial/ethnic background, and their total caloric intake, the association between sweet drinks and overweight risk remained.
These results may be surprising because many parents ban sodas and sugar-enriched drinks, but freely give fruit juices to their children. While fruit juices do contain vitamins, they are less healthy than fresh fruit, which contains more fiber.
The authors of the new study suggest that reducing the consumption of sweet drinks (including fruit juices) by preschoolers might be an effective strategy to help manage children's weight and reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting preschoolers to 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day. That is less than one cup of juice per day.
Reference: JA Welsh, ME Cogswell, S Rogers, H Rockett, Z Mei, and LM Grummer-Strawn. Overweight Among Low-Income Preschool Children Associated With the Consumption of Sweet Drinks: Missouri, 1999-2002. Pediatrics 2005; 115: e223-e229.