By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (August 2, 2007)—Sugar-sweetened beverages like nondiet sodas and fruit-flavored drinks can lead to excess weight gain in children, especially when kids drink them between meals.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, soft drink consumption among children has doubled in the last ten years. At the same time, the number of children considered to be overweight has dramatically increased. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) estimates that 14% of children ages two to five are overweight.
So why are kids getting fatter?
Is diet to blame? Or is it because of less physical activity? To help understand the role of sugary drinks in childhood obesity, a Canadian research team studied 1,944 preschool-age children. The children were first seen when they were five months old; after that, the parents gave information regularly about their children’s dietary habits—including the type and frequency of sugar-sweetened drinks that they drank—until the children were 4 1/2 years old.
More than 17% of children drank sugar-sweetened beverages every day. While the total amount of sugar-sweetened drinks wasn’t related to being overweight, children who drank sugary beverages between meals on a daily basis were almost 2.5 times as likely to be overweight by age 4 1/2 than were children who didn’t drink sweetened beverages at all. Children from lower-income households who drank sugary beverages between meals were at even higher risk. These children had more than three times the chance of becoming overweight than did children from higher-income families who didn’t drink sugary beverages.
“Given that family environment is key for the development of eating behaviors in later years, the introduction of sugar-sweetened beverages in early childhood is a cause for concern in light of increasing body weights among children,” the authors commented in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. They advised, “Parents should be encouraged to limit the quantity of beverages high in calories and sugar because of their propensity to increase weight, and to provide children with lower-sugar beverages as snack choices and to give water to quench thirst between meals and at bedtime.”
Tips to fend off childhood obesity
Try these tips to help your child maintain a healthy weight:
• Encourage eating only when hungry and don’t make kids “clean the plate.”
• Avoid using sugary desserts as a reward for finishing a meal. Try offering fresh cut-up fruit as an after-meal treat.
• Stay active together as a family. Take a walk around the neighborhood after a meal and limit the amount of time spent in front of the TV and computer.
(J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107:924–34)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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