Should you let your kids drink soda?

Research has recently linked soda consumption to childhood obesity. Now, a new study finds that children who drink caffeinated soda every day are more likely to try alcohol within a year. This is what parents need to know:

What the study says

Published in peer-reviewed journal Substance use and abuse The study, conducted by researchers at Seoul National University in Korea, analyzed data from more than 2,000 U.S. children ages 9 and 10. Researchers found that children who reported drinking a caffeinated soda every day were twice as likely to report drinking alcohol a year later.

What are the key findings?

The study suggests that regular consumption of soda could increase the risk of alcohol consumption in children. Researchers also concluded that those who drank caffeinated soda daily were more impulsive and had poorer memories. The study also found that consumption of caffeinated beverages – including energy drinks among teenagers – has previously been linked to future substance use among adults and adolescents.

A study of over 2,000 U.S. children between the ages of nine and 10 found that those who reported drinking caffeinated soda daily were twice as likely to report drinking alcohol a year later.

Published in peer-reviewed journal Substance use and abuseThe study’s results also show that daily caffeinated soda drinkers were more impulsive and had poorer working memory performance.

“Our results suggest that daily consumption of caffeinated sodas in children predicts substance use in the near future,” lead author Mina Kwon of Seoul National University said in the report. “One possible explanation is that the substances contained in caffeinated sodas (caffeine and sugar) could produce a toxicological effect on the brain, making individuals more sensitive to the reinforcing effects of harder drugs such as alcohol.”

Researcher Woo-Young Ahn, also from Seoul National University, added that it is “vitally important” to “develop evidence-based recommendations for the consumption of caffeinated sodas among minors.” “There is no consensus on a safe dose of caffeine in children, and some children may be more susceptible to side effects associated with frequent caffeine consumption than others.” The team also noted a need for future research.

This is the latest study to link drinking soda to poor health outcomes. Here’s what a large study published in July in the journal Pediatrics found about the risk of obesity in children who regularly drink soda.

Soda and obesity

Research has found that drinking sodas is linked to a higher risk of obesity in adults. Well, a study has found that children who regularly drink soda are more likely to suffer from obesity.

Researchers analyzed data from 405,528 teenagers around the age of 14 in 107 different countries and regions. While obesity rates varied across countries (from 3.3% in Cambodia to 64% on the Polynesian island of Niue), there was a strong association between drinking at least one soda per day and being overweight or obese. Specifically, children who drank soda daily were 1.14 times more likely to be overweight or obese than children who did not drink soda daily.

“Our results, combined with other evidence, suggest that reducing soft drink consumption should be a priority in combating overweight and obesity among adolescents,” the researchers concluded.

What do experts think?

Experts aren’t surprised by the findings linking soda to obesity. “This isn’t shocking at all – we’ve seen this in adults,” Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Life. “Soda has so many calories and although it shouldn’t be consumed as a regular drink, some people – including teenagers and children – drink it like water.”

Worth mentioning: A 12 ounce can regular Coke has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar (or 78% of the recommended adult diet); a 12 ounce can of it Pepsi has 150 calories and 41 grams of sugar.

“Soda has empty calories, so it doesn’t provide nutritional support, but it’s tasty, so you can get a lot of calories.” Dr. Tracy Zaslow, a pediatrician and pediatric sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Life. “Water is the best drink children and adults can have.”

However, the potential effects of soda go beyond simply consuming additional calories. “The calories really all come from fructose. “So not only is it a large number of calories in a small amount, but fructose, along with other simple sugars, also has a direct impact on hormone signaling such as insulin as well as fat regulation,” says Dr. Hanna Jaworski, chief of pediatrics at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, part of Corewell Health.

Soda was linked with Insulin resistanceThe cells in the muscles, fat tissue and liver do not respond well to insulin (a hormone that helps glucose enter cells where it is used for energy) and cannot easily absorb glucose from the blood. Insulin resistance is linked to type 2 diabetes, a disease that is also associated with obesity.

Sugar often leads to more cravings for sweets – and that can also contribute to the risk of developing obesity, explains nutritionist Jessica Cording, author of The little book of game changers, tells Yahoo Life. “I see this quite often: the more sugar someone has, the more someone wants,” she says. “If you teach children a love of sugar from a young age and they eat a lot of added sugar, the brain starts wanting more. Sugar is very habit forming.”

Lemonade is also not associated with a healthy lifestyle, Jaworski emphasizes. “Soda consumption is likely related to other health habits as well,” she says. “Someone who consciously takes steps to be healthy – eating more fruits and vegetables, engaging in regular physical activity – is less likely to drink soda on a regular basis.”

What are the short-term effects of a soda?

Soda can have a big short-term impact on children. “You get a sugar rush—there’s a spike in blood sugar and possibly an effect of caffeine,” Zaslow says. “As the sugar rush wears off, a child may experience mental fogginess and mood swings. It can be very grumpy or irritable.”

If a child drinks soda during their school day, that sugar crash can impact their academic performance, Cording says.

What about long-term effects?

Zaslow says the “biggest concern” is obesity. “But beyond that, soda can lead to poor blood sugar control, which can lead to diabetes,” she says.

Soda can also have a negative impact on dental health, says Jaworski. “Soda is very acidic and harsh on your teeth,” she emphasizes. “Depending on the frequency of use and underlying dental health, tooth enamel damage or even tooth decay may occur.”

There is also an increased risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, general physical inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and stroke, says Jaworski. “Colas in particular are also linked to the formation of kidney stones,” she adds.

Should parents give up soda altogether?

Experts say parents don’t have to ban their children from drinking soda entirely. “Once in a while is probably OK,” Zaslow says. “You treat it almost like dessert. “It’s only a concern if it turns into multiple doses or cups a few times a week or every day.” Cording agrees. “It should not be treated as a forbidden item. Then 99% of the time kids will want it more and it will be harder for them to temper with soda when they come into contact with it,” she says. “Just treat it like a special occasion thing.”

This article was originally published and updated on July 24, 2023.

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