Young children who drink sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sugary juices, and sports drinks on a daily basis are far more likely to end up obese than children who consume the products in moderation, according to a new study by the University of Virginia. The findings add to extensive evidence that tackling America’s obesity epidemic requires improving childhood nutrition.
Researchers tracked 9,600 children from the time they were two years old until they reached the age of five. Between nine percent and 13 percent of those children drank at least one sugar-enhanced drink per day at any given time over the course of the trial — and those who did were 43 percent more likely to be obese by the time that they turned five than those who drank less sugar or none at all.
Public health advocates say that excess sugar in drinks has been a major contributor to rising obesity rates and its negative health consequences — especially among children. The Harvard School of Public Health found that American children and youth averaged 224 calories per day, or 11 percent of their recommended daily calories, from sugary beverages in the years between 1999 to 2004. Younger children aged 6 to 11 consumed 60 percent more calories from sugary drinks in 2008 than they did a decade earlier. And the percentage of children drinking the unhealthy products rose by 15 percent during the same time period.
Children who begin unhealthy diets early on in life often have a difficult time reversing that trend in the future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is implementing new regulations that will force public schools to swap out their vending machines’ and cafeterias’ salty, sugary, and fat-filled products for healthier options beginning this school year. But the new University of Virginia study suggests that children who don’t eat and drink healthy items at home before they start going to school will begin their educational careers at a health disadvantage.
Unfortunately, not all families have the luxury of being able to provide their children with healthy food and drink. Many poor Americans live in regions where they can’t get themselves to a supermarket. Instead, these Americans must often rely on mini marts that sell the types of sodas, sports drinks, and sugary juices from concentrate that contribute to childhood obesity.