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Children and Softdrinks

Over the past few decades, soft drinks have swapped roles in our diet, shifting from occasional treat to daily staple. There are more of them choices have exploded and they’re bigger the average size has ballooned from 6.5 ounces to 20 ounces.

Kids now may have more access to soft drinks than milk, says Carolyn Dunn, Ph.D, Nutrition Specialist with the NC Cooperative Extension Service. But as our diet sweetens and super-sizes, the health of our children is in jeopardy.

How much?

Just how prominent are soft drinks in our diet? Consider these statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services data on food and drink consumption:

*56 percent of 8-year-olds consume soft drinks daily

*One third of all teenage boys consume at least three soft drinks a day.

* On average, adolescents get 11 percent of their daily calories from soft drinks.

* The per capita soft drink consumption has increased almost 500 percent over the past 50 years.

Harming health

The soaring soft-drink consumption is one of many contributors to the rising rate of childhood obesity in America. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the proportion of overweight children between 6 and 11 has doubled since 1980; the proportion of overweight adolescents has tripled. “Soft drinks are empty calories”, says Dunn. “High in sugar and void of any redeeming nutritive value. Parents may see them as harmless, but they’re not”.

When children consume a lot of soft drinks they aren’t just boosting their sugar and calorie intake. They’re substituting sodas for healthier beverages. The result: Only 36 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls are getting enough calcium. High soft-drink consumption is also correlated with low intakes of magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and riboflavin.

Take action

What can you do? Try these suggestions:

* Help children learn to enjoy water as the thirst quencher of choice.

* Provide a variety of low-fat milks and 100% fruit and vegetable juices that are high in nutrients. Read the label and be sure you’re getting the pure juice and not a juice drink.

* Provide access to soft drinks as a sometimes beverage to be enjoyed in moderate amounts.

* Be a role model by making healthy beverage choices. Are you a daily soda drinker? Now may be the time to cut back. Be an advocate for healthy drink options at school.