How Soft Drinks Affect Children

There are plenty of articles out there about how soft drinks affect kids, but the one I read, called Liquid Candy, was especially useful since it was an easy read, although a bit long, and contained a wealth of statistics and information. Moreover, it was published by the Center For Science In the Public Interest, so it was independent of any government agency.

In the recent decades, soft drink intake among children has increased at lightning speed.

Among children 2 to 18 years old, the percentage of calories provided by carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks more  than doubled (from 4.8 to 10.3) between 1977–78 and 1999–2001.

Among 12- to 19-year-olds, carbonated soft drinks provided 9 percent of boys’ calories and 8 percent of girls’ calories. Those percentages are triple (boys) or double (girls) what they were in 1977–78.

Moreover, the kids who consumed the most soft drinks (soft drinks account for over 10% of calories) were deficient in other areas of nutrition. This is because of, the obvious yet often overlooked fact, that soda is replacing more nutrient dense foods, as well as increasing caloric intake.  A study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that these kids consumed

  •  24 percent less fiber than light consumers
  •  less of 15 different vitamins and minerals than light consumers
  •  15 percent to 20 percent less vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-12, and magnesium than light consumers
  •  6 percent less calcium than light consumers

Deficiency in areas such as calcium can significantly affect that child’s development later down the road.

Another study reviewed adolescents’ food consumption based on USDA national dietary surveys conducted between 1965 and 1996.The study found that decreases in raw fruits, non-potato vegetables, and calcium-rich dairy foods coincided with “greatly increased” soft drink consumption. Calcium consumption by children 11 to 18 years old dropped from 1,100 mg to 960 mg per day between 1965 and 1994–96. The paper noted that those trends “are of most concern for females, who may be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.”

Soft drink consumption obviously increases a child’s risk for obesity, especially those who are already overweight.

National Cancer Institute scientists found that soft drinks provide a larger percentage of calories to overweight youths than to other youths. The difference was most striking among teenage boys: soft drinks provided 10.3 percent of the calories consumed by overweight boys, but only 7.6 percent of the calories consumed by other boys.

In fact, each can you drink can have a huge effect.

David Ludwig and his colleagues at Children’s Hospital in Boston conducted an observational study on the relationship between soft drinks and obesity in children.The 19-month study involved 548 children whose average age was just under 12 years. It found that the chances of becoming obese increased significantly with each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened drink.

The article also mentions that drinking liquid calories are more likely to promote obesity than eating the same amount in solid foods.

Subjects added 450 calories a day to their diets from either soft drinks or jelly beans during two four-week periods.When they ate jelly beans, the subjects subconsciously compensated for the added calories by consuming roughly 450 fewer calories from other foods. However, when they drank soft drinks, the subjects failed to compensate, adding 450 calories to their previous diet

Although there are studies that differ from the results of that one study, the logic behind it seems sound. Generally when we eat meals, we don’t focus on the nutrition of the drink. Not until the USDA introduced MyPlate did it even include a drink as a source of nutrients in the meal. Thus, traditionally, the caloric value of drinks is underestimated, so people are less aware of how much they’re actually drinking up, so they don’t compensate by eating less or drinking less in the next meal.

There are so many more negative affects that I can think up of off the top of my head for children, the above being just a glimpse. If we can limit soft drink consumption among kids, and make them more aware, it would have big effects, since children are one of the biggest consumers of soft drinks. There is also the psychological effect that we would be shifting the paradigm of health for an entire generation, and thus generations to come after them.


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