Sweetened Beverages and Health Risk to Kids

Child with Large Soft Drink

According to a University of Virginia study, children who drink sugar-sweetened beverages “daily” rather than “often” are more likely to have a problem with obesity, and this applies even to five-year-olds. The study looked at 9,600 children, all born in 2001. Their parents were interviewed when the kids were two years old, and four, and again at five. Each time, both the children and their mothers were weighed.

The kids who were given at least one sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) per day were more likely to also be allowed to watch at least two hours of television every day, and they were also more likely to have overweight mothers. Two-year-olds in these families were found to be more likely to gain weight in their earliest years than similar children in families where no soft drinks were served. The author quotes Dr. Y. Claire Wang of Columbia University, who specializes in pediatric obesity and nutrition:

This is really just adding to the evidence we already know that (drinking) sugar-sweetened beverages in childhood is associated with weight gain. It’s definitely one of the major, if not the main, driver in childhood obesity.

The article also notes that according to a Harvard study, 180,000 people per year die from obesity caused by large amounts of SSBs. The audience of Industry Leaders Magazine is composed of, as the title would suggest, influential people in such industry sectors as energy, manufacturing, construction, supply chain, hospitality, and food and beverages. It is mildly surprising that such a publication would produce a headline like “Obesity problems in kids relate to consumption of sweetened Drinks,” with a last line suggesting that “some huge steps need to be taken,” but this actually happened.

In contrast, many other media outlets are on the side of appeasing the beverage industry, suggesting that everybody should just “live and let live.” We’re in America, were supposed to be free, and sometimes those who wish to shape America’s opinions even question the patriotism of anyone who wants to change the situation.

School daze

By the time schools take over as influencers of young minds, other problems arise, like dicey research on hydration sponsored by Gatorade and the company’s ethically questionable access to kids through “school outreach” programs. Mike Oliva, writing for newjerseynewsroom.com, cites news about sports drinks published by the British Medical Journal:

Overall, they found that 85 percent of scientific studies cited by manufacturers to support claimed performance-enhancing benefits of their products have an elevated risk of bias (such as research sponsored by the company)….

The researchers also concluded that much of the science behind sports drinks is biased or inconclusive, and that empty calories from sports drinks are major contributors to childhood obesity and tooth decay.

Almost anything can become absurd if taken too far, but consider this: If a deranged person points a gun at her or his own head and threatens to shoot, the authorities will step in, if possible, to prevent this. In the old days, such a self-destructive person might have been committed to a mental hospital. People attempting suicide have been charged as criminals. Even elderly people in constant pain are not allowed by law to end their own lives.

Yet millions of people are committing slow suicide by eating and drinking themselves to death. Others, if we want to take the health arguments to extreme lengths, are slowly killing their children by allowing them to eat and drink things that are not good for them, in amounts that are definitely harmful. What can be done about this, consistent with freedom and other treasured American and humanitarian values?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity problems in kids relate to consumption of sweetened Drinks,” IndustryLeadersMagazine.com, 08/05/13
Source: “Study: Sports drinks industry full of myths,” newjerseynewsroom.com, 07/27/12
Image by Eric Lewis

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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