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Sugar-sweetened beverages affect childhood obesity
(June 9, 2008) – A recent study published in Pediatrics and led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are an increasingly large part of children and teens' diets. Teens who consume SSBs, which include sodas, fruit drinks and punches, and sports drinks, drink an average of 356 calories per day, a significant increase from 10 years earlier. The findings suggest that reducing empty caloric intake by limiting these drinks may be a key strategy for promoting healthy eating and preventing excess weight gain.
“The problem with these drinks is that they are so concentrated with calories,” said Cheryl Mehta, a registered dietitian, licensed dietitian and certified diabetes educator with University Hospital’s Diabetes Services. “Even fruit juice, even if it’s natural, has about 60 calories in it per half cup. If a child drinks four servings a day – well that adds up to a lot of extra calories.”
A better choice is milk, Ms. Mehta said, noting that children can drink skim milk after age 2.
“With milk, children get calories, but they’re also getting a lot of nutrients like calcium and protein,” she said.
Comparing data from two time periods, 1988-1994 and 1999-2004, the study showed that over-consumption of sugary beverages is widespread, with 84 percent of teens consuming SSBs on a typical day. An adolescent male who consumes the average amount of SSBs per day (356 calories) would need to jog for an hour or walk for more than three hours to burn off these excess calories.
Growing evidence indicates that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in children and teens may have contributed to rising obesity rates in the United States. A 2006 Pediatrics study indicates that there is an energy gap contributing to the obesity epidemic. This energy gap—or the imbalance between the calories children take in each day and the calories they expend to support normal growth, physical activity, and body function—is about 110-165 excess calories per day. The latest Pediatrics study on sugar-sweetened beverages supports limiting intake of calories from sugary beverages to promote optimal energy balance.