June 8, 2007 / 5:32 PM / 12 years ago

Sugary drinks tied to extra pounds in preschoolers

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Preschool children who are regularly given sugary drinks between meals are more likely to be overweight than their peers, new study findings suggest.

The “empty” calories from sugar-sweetened sodas and fruit drinks have been blamed for contributing to childhood obesity, but not all studies have found evidence to support that claim.

In the new study, Canadian researchers looked at whether young children who regularly had sweet drinks between meals, specifically, were more likely to become overweight before age 5.

Mothers of 1,500 children completed detailed dietary questionnaires when the children were 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5 years old. The children’s weight and height were measured at age 4.5 years.

In general, the study found, children who regularly had sugar-sweetened soda or fruit drinks for snacks — at least four to six times each week — were more than twice as likely to become overweight as children who had no sugary drinks between meals.

This did not include children who drank only 100% pure fruit juice.

The findings, which are published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggest that parents should limit preschoolers’ intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, the researcher say — and that goes for meal time as well as snack time, the study’s lead author, Dr. Lise Dubois, told Reuters Health.

“Beverages offering a better nutritive value, such as milk and 100% fruit juice, are better choices for children, adolescents and adults,” said Dubois, a nutrition researcher at the University of Ottawa.

Still, while 100% fruit juices offer nutrients, they also typically contain a fair amount of calories. Parents should keep in mind that children get the equivalent of a fruit serving from just 4 ounces of pure fruit juice, Dubois pointed out.

Preschoolers who drink too much juice between meals may not be hungry when it’s time to eat, she said.

When children need something simply to quench their thirst between meals or at bedtime, Dubois and her colleagues note, water fits the bill.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2007.

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