August 5th, 2013
01:47 PM ET
There's a strong link between sugary drinks and obesity. Scientific studies have shown that adults who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages tend to have higher body mass indexes, or BMIs, than their water-drinking counterparts.
But until now, this association hadn't been closely examined in kids younger than 5.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children avoid all sugar-sweetened beverages. A new study, published in the organization's journal Pediatrics, offers further evidence to support that recommendation.
Researchers analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, which follows more than 10,000 children who were born in 2001. For this study, Dr. Mark DeBoer and his colleagues used information from 9,600 children who were examined at 2 years, 4 years and 5 years old.
The children's parents were asked about their kids' beverage intake, the family's race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and the children's television or video viewing habits, among other things. The children's height and weight were also recorded at each examination.
Kids who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverage per day were categorized as regular "SSB" drinkers. The term "sugar-sweetened beverage" included soda, sports drinks and fruit drinks that were not 100% fruit juice.
Overall, the researchers found relatively few young children who drank sugar-sweetened beverages. About 9% of 2-year-olds, 13% of 4-year-olds and 11% of 5-year-olds were regular drinkers. They found more consumption among non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children and in families with a lower socioeconomic status.
Researchers did not find a link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and obesity when the kids were 2 years old. But they saw a different result in their 4- and 5-year-old study participants. Regular SSB drinkers at this age were more likely to be overweight or obese than infrequent drinkers.
The study authors also found that children who drank more than one sugar-sweetened beverage daily at age 2 had a greater increase in BMI by age 4.
The weight results may be linked to other discoveries the researchers made. Children who were regular SSB consumers were more likely to have a mother who was overweight or obese. They were also more likely to watch more than two hours of television a day.
On a side note, the researchers also found that kids who drank sugar-sweetened beverages regularly were less prone to drinking milk, which could "underscore additional nutritional problems," the study authors wrote.
The data collected in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey are based on parents' answers to questions, so kids could have consumed more (or fewer) sugar-sweetened beverages than parents reported.
The study authors did also not have access to information about the children's overall calorie intake or physical activity, which may have played a role in their weight.
This study "further raises the need for pediatricians and care providers to strongly discourage SSB consumption in early childhood," the authors wrote. "Additionally, from a public health standpoint, strong consideration should be made toward policy changes leading to decreases in SSB consumption in children."
In a complementary editorial, also published in Pediatrics, Dr. Anisha Patel and Lorrene Ritchie say that "to date, most SSB policy discussion has neglected the youngest children." They note that beverage policies have been implemented in many workplaces and a majority of school districts but haven't been introduced in community settings such as day care or park systems.
Patel and Ritchie recommend:
• Establishing healthy vending standards for parks.
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