Kids of all ages love to drink popular drinks that their peers enjoy, including sugary drinks like sodas and artificially sweetened juices. As these types of drinks have grown in popularity, so has the quantity per serving as well as the variety available to consumers. Because of these factors, increased consumption of sugary drinks by children has resulted in a number of rising health issues. Here’s a look at a few of the effects of sugary drinks for children and a few tips on helping your child reduce or eliminate unhealthy drink choices.
Health Effects of Sugary Drinks
One of the most worrisome effects of sugary drinks for children is the increase in obesity rates. Studies have shown that children who consume as little as one cup (8 oz) of sugary drinks per day gained more weight and body fat than their counterparts who drank artificially sweetened drinks instead.  As a result of the increase in body weight and body fat storage, there has been an increase in childhood Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, some of the fat that is stored inside the body and around the internal organs may not be noticeable from the outside. Even a healthy-looking child who consumes an excess of sugary drinks can be laying the groundwork for Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and even some types of cancer.
In addition to the major health effects outlined above, sugary drinks for children can have a major impact on dental health. Studies have shown that consumption of sugary drinks can cause early development of childhood cavities and early loss of baby teeth. These two issues alone should cause parents to pause and think about their children’s consumption of sugary drinks. In turn, cavities can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Poor habits, such as choices in drink choices, are often carried over into adulthood, leading to further issues in dental health.
Last but certainly not least is the lack of nutrition in sugary drinks for Soda literally contains zero nutrients. It also suppresses the appetite so kids are less likely to eat wholesome, nourishing foods, turning instead to junk food snacks. Sugary drink consumers are also less likely to get the recommended daily levels of vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients. Phosphorus, a very common ingredient in sodas, can actually cause the depletion of calcium in the bones. In fact, girls who drink more soda are more prone to broken bones.
In addition, caffeine can cause a real, physical addiction. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal gland to excess and can lead to adrenal exhaustion in children. Withdrawals from high levels of caffeine can result in symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, headaches, nausea, drowsiness, and depression.
Advice for Parents on Reducing Sugary Drinks for Children
The best way to help reduce the amount of sugary drinks your child consumes is to lead by example. Studies show that the amount of sugary drinks that a parent consumes directly affects the amount of sugary drinks the child consumes, regardless of how much they know about the health risks associated with these types of drinks.  This is not to say that the health risks should be ignored or downplayed. It is very important, of course, that both child and parent are educated about the risks that ongoing, excessive consumption of sugary drinks can have on children.
The next step is to teach children how to make good choices. Just telling them not to drink sugary drinks is not enough. Parents need to prove alternatives that will be both appealing and healthy for the child. Parents should provide drinks with less refined sugar, like 100% fruit juices (4 ounces or less per day). Teach them to avoid carbonated drinks as well as popular energy drinks that include large amounts of caffeine. Low-fat milk is a great alternative to soft drinks. It provides vitamins A & B, calcium, magnesium and protein; all things your child’s body needs to grow. Of course, our preferred and highly recommended choice is bottled water. It may not be as appealing to your child, but it will help prevent dehydration, dry skin and acne.
Another alternative is to offer fresh fruits and vegetables instead of sweet drinks. Juice in itself is not a requirement for a healthy and nutritious diet for children. Encouraging them to eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead of drinking juice will:
- supply fiber that will aid in proper digestion
- provide a healthy and nourishing option for snacks
- help to establish better eating and drinking habits
If you do include juice in your child’s diet, try to limit it to 1/2 cup of no-added-sugar juice, and even then only occasionally. Encourage your child to eat the whole fruit or vegetables, and drink bottled water or milk rather than juice.
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