One Sugary Drink Per Day Linked To Child Obesity
In the study, researchers from the University of Virginia and Columbia University surveyed the parents of 9,600 children born in 2001 when their kids were ages two, four and five years old. The volunteers provided their income and education levels, in addition to how often their children drank sugary drinks and watched television. Researchers took the weights of both the children and their mothers at each survey visit.
The team found that between 9 and 13 percent of children in the survey had at least one daily soda, sports drink or sweetened juice drink, depending on their age. Those same children were also more likely to watch at least two hours of TV each day were more likely to have an overweight mother.
After compensating for various factors, the scientists found that five-year-olds who had a sugary drink every day were 43 percent more likely to be obese than those who consumed the drinks less frequently or not at all. The researchers found no connection between sugary drinks and obesity among two-year-olds.
“Even though sugar-sweetened beverages are relatively a small percentage of the calories that children take in, that additional amount of calories did contribute to more weight gain over time,” lead researcher Dr. Mark DeBoer, a pediatrician at the University of Virginia, told Reuters.
In response, the American Beverage Association released a statement saying that the study painted an incomplete picture surrounding obese children in the study.
“Overweight and obesity are caused by an imbalance between calories consumed from all foods and beverages (total diet) and calories burned (physical activity),” the trade association’s statement said. “Therefore, it is misleading to suggest that beverage consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain among this group of children, especially at a time in their lives when they would normally gain weight and grow.”
While the study did not consider the children’s overall diet or physical activity, experts still said the findings were somewhat expected.
“This is really just adding to the evidence we already know that (drinking) sugar-sweetened beverages in childhood is associated with weight gain,” Dr. Y. Claire Wang, a childhood nutrition and obesity expert at Columbia University, told Reuters. “It’s definitely one of the major, if not the main, driver in childhood obesity.”
In an editorial that was published along with the study, Dr. Anisha Patel and Dr. Lorrene Ritchie of the University of California, San Francisco and UC Berkeley, respectively, pointed out that the study “emphasizes the hazards of the vacuum in (sugary beverage) policy solutions targeting young children.”
The two health experts also made some policy suggestions, including wider restrictions on sugary drinks in childcare settings, an educational campaign and industry-aided strategies to promote healthy drinking habits.
“Isn’t it time to effect meaningful policies and implementation strategies to curb (sugary beverage) consumption in our youngest children?” they wrote.