Sugary Beverages Linked to Obesity in 4- and 5-Year-Olds

August 7, 2013

Although sugar-sweetened beverage consumption has been linked to weight status in older children, its effect on preschoolers had been less clear. In a latest study by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health and the University of Virginia, results showed that 4- and 5-year-olds who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day were more likely to be overweight or obese.  This included soda, sports drinks or fruit drinks that are not 100 percent juice. The study, “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in 2- to 5-Year-Old Children,” is online in the journal Pediatrics and will be published in the September 2013 print issue.

The researchers assessed the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and body mass index (BMI) scores among 9600 children followed in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey—Birth Cohort, while adjusting for race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, mother’s BMI, and television
viewing. They found that at age 2, there was no link between sugary drinks and obesity, although these children had greater changes in their body mass index scores in the following two years than children who did not regularly drink sugary beverages at age 2. The results also showed that regular drinkers of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed less milk and were more likely to watch more than two hours of television daily. The authors concluded that parents and caregivers should be discouraged from providing their children with sugar-sweetened beverages, and instead offer them calorie-free beverages and milk.

“These results strengthen the case that sugar sweetened beverage consumption can contribute to obesity, even among young children,” said Ryan Demmer, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, and study co-author. “Policies that reduce the consumption of these beverages in young children should be considered and scientifically tested as such steps may help mitigate a small but important contribution to the current epidemic of childhood obesity.”

Co-authors on the paper are Mark D. DeBoer, MD, MSc, University of Virginia, and Rebecca J. Scharf, MD, MPH, Mailman School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.