Want Your Kids to Cut Down on Colas?

Setting a good example should be your first move, experts say

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By
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 30, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- If you want your teenager to veer away from the vending machine in the school cafeteria this fall, you need to swear off soft drinks yourself.

That's because new research shows parents who drink soda set the stage for their kids to do the same.

In most U.S. households with children or teens, soda has become a staple. The average intake of soft drinks by children aged 2 to 17 has increased from about 6.9 ounces per day in 1989 to 9.5 ounces per day in 1995 -- a 38 percent increase. Among teen boys, the intake is higher; they gulp down an average of nearly 22 ounces a day.

This excess soda consumption is partly to blame for rising overweight and obesity rates. And some research has linked too much soda consumption to a rise in blood pressure, especially in black teens, perhaps increasing the risk of hypertension later on.

So, if you want your kids to cut down on the colas, you must start by setting a good example, claims research in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

When Mary Story, a professor of public health nutrition at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and her colleagues evaluated the soda drinking habits of 560 children, aged 8 to 13, they found that youths whose parents regularly drank soft drinks were nearly three times more likely to drink soda five or more times a week compared to those youths whose parents didn't drink sodas.

Not surprisingly, the kids who really liked the taste were also more likely to drink soda. If they had a taste preference for soda, they were 4.5 times more likely to drink it five or more times a week, Story's team found.

In the study, about 30 percent of the children who responded consumed soft drinks every day; only 18 percent reported drinking them less than once a week. And 85 percent of the students surveyed said they typically drank regular soft drinks, not diet, boosting the calorie and sugar intake for the day.

Since setting a good example might not be enough to change this unhealthy eating habit, here are other ways to wean your kids off soft drinks:

  • Go cold turkey: Here's the script Story suggests: "It's a new school year, and we're not having soft drinks in the house." She put the plan into action years ago, telling her children, now college students, that sodas wouldn't typically be in the house but would be reserved for special occasions out, and perhaps for holidays and birthdays at home. They adapted, she said. There's nothing wrong with the cold turkey approach, agreed Lona Sandon, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "The good news is that soda is not addictive," she said, "so going cold turkey to break the habit is not going to hurt anyone."
  • Have alternatives ready: "Fill a pitcher with water and keep it in the refrigerator," Story said. "Or keep 100 percent juice in the house." On hot days, lemonade is OK, she added. Non-caloric flavored water or sparkling waters are other good options.
  • Spell out why you're anti-soda: "One 12-ounce can of soda has the equivalent of 9.5 teaspoons of sugar, or one-quarter of a cup," said Jeannie Moloo, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Put this amount in a baggie, measure it out, and show it to your kids. It's quite effective." According to the U.S, Department of Agriculture, you should add no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day to your diet if you consume 2,000 calories daily.
  • Get involved in a "Can the Soda" campaign at school: Moloo did this a few years back. "I went and talked to the administrators of my son and daughter's elementary school...," she said. She also joined a parent committee that succeeded in getting soda dispensers out of the school.

More information

To find out more about soda intake among children, visit the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Mary Story, Ph.D., R.D., professor, public health nutrition, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis; Jeannie Moloo, R.D., spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; Lona Sandon, R.D., assistant professor, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; August 2004 Journal of the American Dietetic Association

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