Finally, some good health news: Kids and teens are drinking fewer sugary drinks these days, according to new research.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that between 2003 and 2014, the number of children and teens consuming these sugar-sweetened drinks dropped significantly—and in turn, so did the number of calories they got from these drinks.
Sugar-sweetened beverages were defined as any non-alcoholic drink with added sugar, including soda, fruit drinks, and flavored milks, according to the study. These drinks are unhealthy choices for kids and teens—not to mention grown-ups—because of their high caloric content and, in some cases, lack of virtually any other nutrients, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Drinking these beverages regularly can up the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, and other chronic diseases.
The decreased intake of these beverages was found across the board in all the groups in the study, including low-income Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The researchers looked at dietary data for a total of 15,645 children and adolescents, aged 2-19, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
But there's still work to be done on this front: Current levels of sugar-sweetened drink consumption are still too high, say researchers, with 61% of all kids and 75.6% of SNAP participants still drinking at least one of these beverages on an average day.
"While the observed declines in children's sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the past decade are promising, the less favorable trends among children in SNAP suggest the need for more targeted efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption," said lead investigator J. Wyatt Koma, a research associate at the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a news release.
How to Help Kids Cut Back on the Sugary Drinks
The average sweetened soda contains about 150 calories—and most of those are from the sugar, per the Harvard School of Public Health. And research shows that those who consume these beverages don't feel as full as they would if they had consumed the same amount of calories from solid food. So how do you help your little ones cut back on the sweet stuff? Try these tips, per the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
Serve milk and water instead. Milk—in dairy and non-dairy form—is a tasty option many kids love too, but unlike sugar-sweetened drinks, milk contains valuable nutrients for children, like calcium, vitamin D, and protein. And don't forget about old-fashioned h2o—always a healthy option compared to other drinks! And in fact, one study found that kids who don't drink enough water throughout the day are more likely to consume their calories from sugar-sweetened beverages. Make healthy hydration a habit in your household, and model it for your kids!
Introduce carbonated water. Some kids and teens may enjoy sparkling water or seltzer, which offer the bubbliness of sodas. Go for flavored options to enhance the taste, or add a squeeze of citrus.
Go easy on the fruit juice. You may think stocking your fridge with fruit juice for your kiddo is a healthy mood—it's fruit, so it's got to be good, right? Not exactly. Fruit juice has more sugar per serving than whole fruit.
Pack a water bottle in your kiddo's school bag. Is your kid getting their sugary drink fix in the school cafeteria? Consider packing them a water bottle or a healthier drink option in their lunch bag so the temptation to buy a drink is reduced.
- Help your child satisfy their sweet tooth in a healthier way. If your kid is used to getting their sugar fix from their beverages, consider healthier ways to help satisfy that craving—in moderation. For example, whole fruit is sweet and can be a delicious snack for kids. And this doesn’t mean you need to put a total ban on sugary foods in your house—the occasional dessert or sweet treat in an appropriate portion size is totally OK.