TUESDAY, March 10, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Children may be more likely to drink sodas and other sugary beverages if their parents are recently separated or divorced, a new study suggests.
Drinking too many sugary beverages puts children at increased risk for obesity, the researchers warned.
"When families separate, one of the things that is most impacted for kids is their day-to-day routines," lead researcher Jeff Cookston, chair of psychology at San Francisco State University, said in a university news release.
"Children are looking for consistency in their family environment, and family routines provide that security and continuity," he explained.
The study included parents and children in families in which the parents were married, separated or divorced, and had them keep dairies of their eating habits over five days.
Children with separated/divorced parents were much more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages than those whose parents were married. Divorce or separation did not appear to increase the risk of other unhealthy habits such as skipping breakfast or eating outside the home.
While the study showed an association between separation/divorce and children in those families drinking more sugary beverages, it did not establish a cause-and-effect link.
Separation and divorce can cause significant stress for children and sugary drinks are an easy and accessible "quick fix" for dealing with that stress, Cookston said.
"They're quite pleasurable, and they're accessible. The brain reacts with a great deal of enjoyment when we have a soda or energy drink," he said. "It also doesn't involve much thinking, except for the decision to purchase them or bring them into the house."
The researchers found that family routines were important. When separated/divorced parents maintained normal household routines, such as eating dinner together or doing family activities, children were less likely to drink sugary beverages.
The study was published online recently in the journal Childhood Obesity.
Each year in the United States, more than 1 million children are affected by divorce, the researchers said in the news release. And, they added, 34 percent of American children aged 6 to 11 are overweight, putting them at risk for obesity when they're adults.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has more about children and divorce.