Sweet Drinks May Increase Obesity Risk for Preschoolers, Study Finds
Overweight preschoolers who drink sweet drinks -- including fruit drinks with no added sugar -- are more likely to "becom[e] seriously overweight a year later," although the drinks appear to have little significant effect on children of normal weight, according to a CDC study published in the February issue of Pediatrics, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The study tracked 10,904 children ages three to four and compared the children's heights and weights over approximately one year. Researchers also looked at parents' reports of their children's diets during a four-week period at the beginning of the first year. The study considered fruit drinks such as Kool-Aid, as well as juice and soda.
Researchers divided the children into three groups: normal and underweight children; children at risk of becoming overweight, defined as being between the 85th and 95th percentile in growth charts; and overweight children. The study also took into account other differences among subjects, including ethnicity, birth weight and diet. The study found that overweight children who drank sweet drinks once or twice a day doubled their risk for becoming seriously overweight one year later. While the link between weight gain and sweet drinks existed for all the subject groups, the finding was only statistically significant among overweight children. The study's authors "suggest that limiting sweet drinks may help solve the growing problem of childhood obesity," the AP/Sun reports.
"Juice is definitely a part of this," lead researcher Jean Welsh of CDC said, adding that "children need very few calories in their day" and sweet drinks "are a source of added sugar in the diet." The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting preschoolers to between four and six ounces of juice daily, and the new U.S. dietary guidelines note that whole fruit is healthier than fruit juice.
Richard Adamson, vice president for scientific and technical affairs at the American Beverage Association, noted that the study did not take into account television viewing, parents' weight and the children's activity levels.
However, Rebecca Unger, who studies overweight children in private practice and at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said the study supports what she has found. Unger said, "We do see kids do well when we cut out juice. Sometimes that's all they need to do" (Johnson, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/7). The study is available online.