Sweet Drinks: What's Best For Kids?

Numerous studies have linked sweetened drinks to children's weight problems. Fruit juices, sodas, sweetened drinks, etc., can pack a calorie punch. What is the right amount? And what place should sugar-sweetened beverages play in a child’s diet?

Two new studies analyzed dietary intake information from nationally represented surveys about children's drinking habits. One study shows that children and adolescents are drinking more juice and sugary drinks. One study showed that kids who consume 100% of fruit juice do not have a higher risk of being overweight than children who do not.

Are your children a fan of fruit juice? Our poll is available on WebMD's Parenting board: Grade Schoolers and Preschoolers.

Sweet Drinks have More Calories

In the June issue of Pediatrics, the first study examines trends in children's drinking habits, including how they are changing. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected data from 1998 to 1994 and 1999 to 2004.

According to the study, sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices are increasing in calories for children and teens aged 2-19.

The sugar-sweetened beverages, 100% fruit juice and 10% to 15% total calories are available for adolescents and children. The sugar-sweetened drink intake of children between 6 and 11 years experienced a 20% rise in calories. Adolescents ate 67% more sugar-sweetened drinks calories than soda.

The teens' sports drink intake tripled during those same times.

The Soda is at Home

It was also found that many of these alcohols are consumed in the house.

A typical weekday saw 55% to 70% sugar-sweetened beverages consumed at home. A school average of 7% to 15% of sugary drinks was consumed. Y. Claire Wang MD, ScD and her colleagues recommended that pediatricians become aware of these trends in order to assist parents with "identifying suboptimal dietary habits" so they can help their children stay healthy.

WebMD spoke to Page Love, registered dietitian and a specialist in working with obese and overweight kids. It's better for children to avoid sodas and sports drinks as well as other beverages with added sugar.

Love has "no problem with children drinking fruit juice to meet their nutritional needs." She says one downside of drinking fruit juice is it moves out of the body so quickly, so children get hungrier faster. Love suggests 100% juice as well as pieces of whole fruits in a healthy diet.

Juice is not linked to extra weight

The second study was published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. It involved Theresa Nicklas (DrPH), Baylor College of Medicine and her colleagues. They compared fruit juice drinkers who drank 100% to fruit juice drinkers who didn't. Data from NHANES of 2-11-year-old children from 1999 through 2002 were used.

These are their findings:

Sue Taylor is registered as a dietitian for the Juice Products Association. The group also provided part of the funding for the study, including a grant to Baylor College of Medicine.

Taylor claims fruit juice is getting a bad reputation.

She says obesity is a complicated issue and it is not fair to point out one particular food.

Taylor noted that although children consumed more calories than juice drinkers, it was still healthier for them.

How to keep your balance

American Academy of Pediatrics advises children and teens to limit fruit juice consumption to between 4 and 6 ounces per day for children ages 1 and 6, and 8 to 12 to 18 ounces for those aged 7 and 18.

Instead, eat whole fruits. The juice and nutrients are both in the flesh.

Young children shouldn't be encouraged to have a large glass of juice before the main course. This can lead to them becoming bloated and may not be able to eat a nutritiously balanced meal.

Pay attention to the label. It must state on the label that it is 100% fruit juice if it does.