As childhood obesity rates continue to balloon, sugary beverages are emerging as a prime culprit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sweetened beverages are the largest source of empty carbs, in the form of added sugars, in children's diets, and the extra calories are helping to expand young waistlines.
Even among adults, sugary drinks have been linked to not-so-sweet effects that include weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems. A recent study in the journal Circulation suggests that men who drink 12 or more ounces of a sugar-sweetened beverage a day are 20 percent more likely to develop heart disease than men are who abstain. Most Americans—including kids—get too much sugar. The AHA recommends that men get a total of no more than 36 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 9 teaspoons, and that women get no more than two-thirds that much. Children are advised to limit their sugar intake to 12 grams a day, or 3 teaspoons. During 2001 to 2004, however, children ages 4 to 8 consumed 21 teaspoons per day on average.
While Debbie Beauvais, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, doesn't think sugary beverages should be singled out as causing childhood obesity, she does recommend that kids—and adults—opt instead for water, milk, or small portions of 100 percent juice. Low-fat and fat-free milk are rich in calcium, and pure juice, she says, offers lots of nutrients.
Here's a look at some of the sugary drinks kids favor, along with tips on building better beverage habits.
Hi-C. These little cartons may deliver all the vitamin C your kid needs in a day, but Hi-C is only 10 percent juice. A single 6.75-ounce serving contains 90 calories and 25 grams of sugar. That's more sugar per ounce than in a regular Coke.
Hawaiian Punch. Eight ounces has 70 calories and 17 grams of sugar. With just 5 percent juice, this drink also includes preservatives and artificial flavors and colorings such as "red 40" in its ingredient list.
SunnyD. It might taste like orange juice, but SunnyD Tangy Original is just 5 percent juice. Along with 80 percent of the recommended daily vitamin C, your kid will also get 11 grams of sugar in a 6.75-ounce bottle.
Capri Sun. One 6-ounce pouch packs 60 calories and 16 grams of sugar.
Dannon Danimals. These 3.1-ounce yogurt smoothies may look healthy, but they only have 10 percent of the recommended daily calcium based on a 2,000 calorie diet—slightly more for a kid's 1,600 calorie diet—plus 70 calories and 14 grams of sugar.
There are healthier ways to quench a juvenile thirst. Here are some tips:
Choose water. The Institute of Medicine recommends that kids ages 4 to 8 get about 5 12-ounce glasses of water each day, and that older kids and teens get between 5½ to 8 glasses, depending on age and gender.
Use pure juice, not juice drinks. Juice shouldn't replace apples, oranges, grapes, and other fruits—it doesn't have the fiber content of whole fruits, and nutrition labels show that even pure, all-natural juice has considerable sugar. But it's in the juice, not added to it, and the juice offers far more than just empty calories. New research published in the journal Public Health Nutrition shows that drinking pure fruit juice is linked to improved nutrition in 2- to 18-year-olds.
Limit juice portions to 1 cup a day. "Portion size is most important," says Beauvais. Four to 8 ounces a day is plenty for children. Serving sizes have increased over the years, so be careful—one juice box typically is about 7 ounces. Dilute with water if you have concerns.
Make sure kids get 2 to 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk each day. Milk is rich in nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, adequate amounts of which are tied to healthy bones and lower rates of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If your kids don't like milk, try flavored varieties. Beauvais isn't an enemy of flavored milk. "Flavored milk is a trade-off to no milk at all," she says. "The nutrition that milk provides is more important than those few extra calories and sugar that add flavor."