Kids' Extra Calories Come From Sodas

Sugar sweetened beverages are source of most extra calories in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Much debate has centered on how much soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages might be contributing to obesity. Among children, the calories are adding up.

A recent study found that most of the extra calories kids are getting when they have sugary drinks are actually coming from those drinks.

In other words, they're not skipping other food items in exchange for the calories they gain from the sugary beverages.

Depending on their age, children who regularly drink sugar-sweetened beverages are taking in 147 to 342 extra calories each day.

"Don't drink your calories."

The study, led by Kevin C. Mathias, MS, of the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, aimed to understand how much sugar-sweetened beverages tended to add to children's overall calorie intake.

The researchers used a compilation of all the data in the four National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2003 through 2010 for the study.

This data set included information on the diet habits of 10,955 children, aged 2 to 18. The researchers looked at the sources of total calories in both children who drank sugar-sweetened beverages and those who did not.

For children who regularly had sugary drinks, the researchers added their total intake of calories from all food plus drinks not sweetened with sugar, such as milk. Then they added up the calories these children got from sugar-sweetened drinks.

The researchers then compared these numbers to the total calories of children who did not usually drink sugar-sweetened beverages. The findings were categorized by children's ages.

Children aged 2 to 5 who regularly drank sugar-sweetened drinks took in an average 147 calories more each day than children in that age group who did not regularly drink sugar-sweetened beverages.

The higher caloric intake among children aged 6 to 11 who regularly had sugary drinks was an average 221 calories more each day. For those aged 12 to 18, sugary-beverage consumers took in an average 342 calories more per day than those who did not drink sugar-sweetened beverages.

Comparing the source of these calories across the groups revealed that the sugar-sweetened drinks were responsible for most of the extra calories.

Among children aged 2 to 5 and aged 6 to 11, the researchers found no difference in the total calories the children consumed from food and non-sugar-sweetened drinks.

This finding means that the overall higher intake of calories among children who drank sugar-sweetened beverages came almost entirely from the sugary drinks the children had. Children aged 2 to 5 who drank sugar-sweetened beverages tended to drink less milk than the children who did not have sugary drinks.

Among children and teens aged 12 to 18, the children who regularly drank over 500 calories a day of sugary beverages had a higher intake of calories both from the drinks and from food.

Among the adolescents, the more food they ate and the fewer non-sugary drinks they drank (such as milk or fruit juice), the more sugar-sweetened beverages they drank. Also, the more sugary drinks the teens had, the more pizza, burgers and fries they tended to eat.

"Sugar-sweetened beverages are primarily responsible for the higher caloric intakes of sugar-sweetened beverage consumers, and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is associated with intake of a select number of food and beverage groups, some of which are often unhealthy (e.g., pizza and grain-based desserts)," the researchers concluded.

The study was published March 12 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 15, 2013
Last Updated:
March 17, 2013