Studies are finding that children are consuming too much sugar – and sugary drinks are a big part of the problem. In fact, one report says that children in the U.S. are consuming 17% of calories from added sugars, and half of those are from sugary beverages alone. This is well over dietary guidelines that less than 10% of calories should come from sugar.
Ashley Kim, Registered Dietitian with Get Up & Go by Children's Health℠, explains that parents are often not aware of the amount of sugar in popular drinks such as sodas, energy and sports drinks, sweetened teas and fruit juices. Learn the effects of sugary drinks and simple ways to help cut them from your family's diet.
What are the effects of sugary drinks?
The amount of sugar in sweetened beverages easily adds up. Drinking one soda a day equals 55 pounds of sugar per year. Consuming too much sugar can lead to health problems such as:
- Unhealthy weight gain and obesity: Can lead to heart disease, liver problems, diabetes and bone problems
- Heart disease: Damages blood vessels which can lead to a heart attack
- Tooth decay: Growth of bacteria in your mouth that destroys tooth enamel and leads to cavities
- Fatty liver: Fat in the liver causes damage, and then the liver can't do its many jobs
- Type 2 diabetes: The pancreas stops making insulin, which your body needs to deliver fuel to cells
"Since sugar does not add nutrients to our bodies, they are a source of empty calories, which can lead to weight gain, and increase risk of health complications for our children," Kim explains.
What about beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners?
Products containing calorie-free sugar substitutes (often referred to as artificial sweeteners) have quadrupled over the past years. While these calorie-free beverages may seem like a healthier option, Kim clarifies that these beverages are sweetened with nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) – meaning they offer zero nutritional benefit. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that research is limited when it comes to the long-term effects of sugar substitutes on a child's health. Growing research suggests consumption of NNS may not only negatively affect the gut microbiota, but also increase a child's taste preference for sugary foods.
Parents can watch out for NNS by looking at the ingredient list on the nutrition label. There are currently five NNS approved by the Food and Drug Administration: Aspartame (NutraSweet® and Equal®), Acesulfame-potassium (Sweet One®), Neotame, Saccharin (Sweet'N Low®) and Sucralose (Splenda®). Stevia (Truvia® and PureVia®) is another example which falls under the "generally recognized as safe" distinction. However, Kim explains manufacturers are not yet required to indicate the amount of NNS per serving.
6 tips to help your child avoid sugary drinks
The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to less than 25 grams for children. That's about 6 teaspoons! Try these tips to reduce sugary drink consumption and develop healthier habits:
- Start young: Only give water and milk to children under age 1
- Stay hydrated: Children and adolescents need about 6-8 cups of water daily. See tips to encourage hydration.
- Add fun flavors: Add fruit to water or freeze fruit in ice trays and add to water
- Read the label: Use your nutrition label to be aware of sugar content in your favorite drinks
- Limit juice intake, including 100% fruit juice
- Skip the sports drink: Know when a sports drink is needed, and do not give sports drinks thinking they are healthy
See more tips for reducing sugar intake.
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