Preschoolers who drink at least one serving of soda, fruit juice or other sweet beverage every day are likely to become overweight, new study findings show.
“Minimizing a child’s consumption of sweet drinks might be one way to help manage their weight,” study author Jean A. Welsh, of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told AMN Health.
Welsh and a team of researchers looked at the association between the risk of becoming overweight and the consumption of sweet drinks in a follow-up study of nearly 11,000 low-income preschoolers, between 2 and 3 years old.
At the start of the study, nearly one quarter of the children were already overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. One year later, 3 percent of the normal or underweight children had become overweight, as did 25 percent of those at risk of becoming overweight, and 67 percent of the overweight children were still overweight.
On average, the children drank about three sweet drinks per day. Nearly 90 percent of children drank sweet drinks at least once every day, while 41 percent drank sweet drinks no fewer than three times each day.
Preschoolers who were at risk of becoming overweight at the start of the study who drank as few as one sweet drink per day were twice as likely to be overweight at follow-up as those who drank less than one sweet drink per day, Welsh and her team report in this month’s Pediatrics. Those who drank three or more sweet drinks daily were nearly twice as likely as their peers to be overweight one year later.
Overweight children who drank sweet drinks daily - one drink or more than three - were about twice as likely to remain overweight as those who drank less than one sweet drink every day, study findings indicate.
It wasn’t just too much soda that helped preschoolers to pack on the pounds, study findings suggest. When the researchers excluded soda from their analysis, the association remained “strongly positive” among overweight children and those at risk of becoming overweight.
The association also remained after the investigators took into account the preschoolers’ consumption of high-calorie foods that have previously been linked to weight gain, such as ice cream, potato chips and cookies, the report indicates.
How the consumption of sweet drinks promotes weight gain and weight retention among overweight preschoolers and those at risk of becoming overweight is unclear.
According to Welsh, “one possibility is that we respond differently to calories taken in liquid form than to those consumed as solids.”
“Previous studies indicate that when we consume extra calories in the form of solids we accommodate them pretty well by reducing our subsequent intake,” she explained. “This accommodation does not appear to be as effective when the extra calories are consumed as liquids, making it more likely that these calories will be in addition to what we need to maintain our weight.”
Based on the current study, parents who are concerned about their preschoolers’ weight would do well to “limit the consumption of sweet drinks to less than one per day,” Welsh said.
“Healthy alternatives include water and low-fat milk for a thirsty child and whole fruit as a healthy snack,” she added.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, February 2005.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD