Here’s Why Most Kids Need to Cut WAY Back on Sweet Drinks

Think those occasional sodas and sports drinks aren't a big deal? Think again.
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Think back on the past week: How many sweetened drinks did your child have? Maybe there was a sports drink after a soccer game, a soda when you went out to eat, and a fruit punch packed in a lunch box. It may not seem like a big deal if it's not an everyday thing. But even just two sugar-sweetened beverages a week is too much, according to a new scientific statement.

In its new recommendations on kids and sugar, the American Heart Association (AHA) says kids and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to one or fewer 8-ounce serving per week. That's eight ounces a week. For perspective, a can of soda is 12 ounces, and a bottle of sports drink is typically 20.

The AHA says that added sugar in the diet—especially the kind in processed foods and drinks—is a culprit in cardiovascular disease and conditions associated with it like obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Kids aren't immune to those previously grown-up health problems anymore. In fact, the AHA says that there's been an "alarming" increase in the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease among children, and a high sugar intake may play a role.

Though the AHA recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day for children, kids currently get an average of 20 teaspoons every day. (See how quickly it can add up!)

The added sugar from beverages may be especially insidious. For starters, the calories in beverages aren't as filling as those in foods—so you can guzzle down a lot of calories (and sugar) and not feel very full. It's no wonder research has found a link between sugar-sweetened beverages and increased body fat and a larger waist circumference among kids of all ages. (And in studies, children and teens who switched from sugar-sweetened beverages to non-caloric drinks lost weight).

Research also found that each additional cup of sugar-sweetened beverages kids consume every day is associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure, waist circumference, BMI, and insulin resistance—and a drop in "good" HDL cholesterol.

I'll be honest: Even though I try to keep sweet drinks to a minimum with my kids, there are probably many weeks they go past these new recommendations. There always seems to be some "special occasion," like a party, gathering with friends, or dinner out. But this is a good reminder that even when sweet drinks seem like a sometimes-thing, they can really add up. Here's what I'll continue to do:

  • Not stock sugary drinks at home. Water and milk (and limited amounts of 100 percent orange juice) is typically all we have in the house.
  • Give my kids water when they're thirsty so they continue to associate plain water—not sports drinks or soda—with quenching their thirst.
  • Treat sugary drinks like a dessert. If we're out for dinner, the choice is a sweet drink or a dessert, but not both.
  • Watch the portion of sweet drinks when they do have them. Eight ounces isn't very much—and you'd be hard-pressed to find that size at restaurants or movie theaters, that's for sure!

What are your rules for sweet drinks?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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