Young children who regularly drink sugary beverages are more likely to gain excessive weight and become obese, according to new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Based on a review of data from 9,600 children ages 2 to 5 in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, the study found that regular consumption of sugary drinks – defined as one or more 8-ounce servings daily – was associated with higher body mass index scores in 4- and 5-year-olds. BMI is a commonly used measure of whether a child is overweight or obese.
The study also found that 5-year-olds who regularly had sugary drinks were more likely to be obese, and 2-year-olds who regularly drank sugar-sweetened beverages had larger increases in BMI over the following two years than 2-year-olds who had sugary drinks infrequently or not at all.
The study also found that young children who regularly drink sugary beverages were more likely to drink less milk and watch more than two hours of television daily than children who had sugary drinks infrequently or not. “Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is only one practice out of many that contribute to obesity during childhood,” U.Va. researcher Dr. Mark D. DeBoer said.
However, added U.Va. researcher Dr. Rebecca Scharf, drinking sugary beverages is one behavior “that is potentially modifiable – and therefore deserves attention.”
Parents and pediatricians should keep young children away from sugary drinks and instead offer water as one step toward avoiding excessive weight gain, the researchers concluded. “In addition to avoiding unhealthy calorie sources such as sugar-sweetened beverages, parents should also encourage healthy practices such as regular physical activity and adequate sleep,” DeBoer said.
While educating parents about healthy drink choices is important, the researchers also suggested that public health policy changes should be strongly considered to reduce consumption of sugary beverages. This might include additional limits on access to sugary drinks in schools.
“Providing access to nutritious foods and limiting over-consumption of soda at home, school and in the community in early childhood is a potentially helpful way to improve long-term health outcomes for children,” Scharf said.
Published online by the journal Pediatrics, the paper was written by DeBoer, Scharf and Columbia University researcher Ryan T. Demmer.