MONDAY, June 25, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Sweet drinks at snack time and before bed are widening preschoolers' waistlines, a new study shows.
Canadian researchers found that 2- to 4-year-olds who regularly drank sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and fruit drinks between meals were more than twice as likely to be overweight at age 4 1/2, compared to kids who didn't drink these beverages.
"There have not been a lot of studies like this in preschool children, we see more in adolescents," said study author Lise Dubois, a Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Population Health and an associate professor in the department of epidemiology and community medicine at the University of Ottawa. "These children are not old enough to buy their own beverages, so, in this case, the products are in the house, and the parents are giving these drinks to their children."
The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The researchers examined the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among more than 1,900 children living in Quebec, Canada, who were born in 1998.
The children's parents were interviewed and filled out a diet-related questionnaire when their child was 2 1/2, 3 1/2, and 4 1/2 years old to determine how often sugary drinks were consumed.
Sugar-sweetened beverages included regular or nondiet carbonated drinks and fruit-flavored drinks (such as fruit punch and orange drinks), but excluded pure fruit juices. The children's height and weight were also measured.
The researchers found that almost 7 percent of the children who didn't drink sugar-sweetened beverages between meals were overweight at 4 1/2 years of age, compared to just over 15 percent of children who drank them regularly (four to six times or more per week).
Socioeconomic factors, such as mother's education and age and family income level, played a role in the consumption of sugary drinks. For example, children from families with insufficient income who regularly drank these beverages were more than three times more likely to be overweight at age 4 1/2 compared to kids who didn't drink these beverages and were from sufficient-income households.
However, a child's overall daily consumption (including between meals and at mealtime) of sugary beverages was not related to being overweight.
"This study adds to the scientific evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to childhood obesity," said Dr. Y. Claire Wang, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health.
In light of this, Wang recommended that kids drink mostly water and other unsweetened beverages, such as unsweetened tea and sodium-free seltzer water (with or without natural fruit flavoring), instead of sugary drinks. Other alternatives include skim or low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juice diluted with water.
However, she urged parents to limit the consumption of 100 percent fruit juice to four to six ounces per day for children 6 and under. She added that, right now, 8 percent to 10 percent of children ages 2 to 5 consume double the recommended daily amount of sugary beverages.
Fruit or yogurt are both good snack choices to accompany healthier beverages, said Dubois. Even though the study found that overall sugary beverage consumption was not associated with being overweight, Dubois still didn't recommend having these drinks at mealtime since they are full of calories and have no nutritional value.
In addition to a parent's role in shaping their child's diet, public health policy can also play a part, Wang said.
"Policy approaches, such as limiting sugar-sweetened beverage sales in schools, regulating serving sizes, and specific marketing practices will be key to ensure better beverage choices for children and adolescents," she said.
She added that replacing some TV time with physical activity, encouraging children to consume less fast food, and supporting longer and more frequent physical education classes can also help control a child's weight.
"Physicians are already seeing adolescents with adult diabetes and high blood lipids. This is a new and tragic phenomenon," said Dubois. "You really need to prevent this weight gain very early in life; parents need to act in the early years when they have more control over what their kids eat. At least then, their children can enter adolescence not being overweight. Waiting until adolescence may be too late."
There's more on excessive childhood weight gain at the American Obesity Association.