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 (UVA) School of Medicine.
Based on a review of data from 9,600 children aged 2 to 5 in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, the study found that regular consumption of sugary drinks—defined as one or more 8-oz servings daily—was associated with higher BMI scores in 4- and 5-year-olds.
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 at all. “Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is only one practice out of many that contribute to obesity during childhood,” says UVA researcher Mark D. DeBoer, MD.
However, adds UVA researcher Rebecca Scharf, MD, drinking sugary beverages is one behavior “that’s 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 conclude. “In addition to avoiding unhealthful calorie sources such as sugar-sweetened beverages, parents also should encourage healthful practices such as regular physical activity and adequate sleep,” DeBoer says.
While educating parents about healthful drink choices is important, the researchers also suggest that public health policy changes be strongly considered to reduce the consumption of sugary beverages. This may include additional limits on access to sugary drinks in schools.
“Providing access to nutritious foods and limiting overconsumption 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 says.
Source: University of Virginia Health System