Kids ages 2 through 5 who regularly have sugar-sweetened drinks are likely to put on extra pounds, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics. They also tend to drink less milk and spend more time in front of the TV than their peers who drink few if any sweetened beverages.
In addition, 5-year-olds who have one or more glasses daily of sugary drinks are 43 percent more likely to be obese than their counterparts.
Drinks with added sugar—such as soda pop, sports drinks and sweetened juices—have already been linked to weight gain among older children. But previous studies on the effect of these beverages on very young kids came to varying conclusions, according to background information in this current study.
This study was unique, according to the researchers, in part because of the large number of children involved. It used information gathered from 9,600 children enrolled in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationwide survey of children born in 2001. Children in the ECLS-B were examined at ages 2, 4 and 5.
Their primary caregiver, usually the mother, also filled out questionnaires throughout the study period.
Researchers looked at the number of sugar-sweetened beverages the children drank daily and tracked the kids’ weight and height.
At age 2, there was no difference in weight between those who had regular sodas and other sugary drinks. However, sugar-drinking tots did tend to put on more pounds during the following years.
By age 4, kids who regularly drank sugary drinks weighed more than those who didn’t, and at age 5, they were more likely to be obese.
Sugary-beverage drinkers also were more likely than their counterparts to spend two or more hours in front of the television every day, and they were less likely to drink milk.
The authors concluded that “parents and caregivers should be discouraged from providing their children with sugar-sweetened beverages” and instead offer children milk or calorie-free drinks.
“Such steps may help mitigate a small but important contribution to the current epidemic of childhood obesity,” they wrote.