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Effects of Soda on Kids

The Effects of Soda and Low-nutrient Foods on Children's Behavior

Young girl drinking sodaThe standard American diet, chock full of soda and other sugary drinks, fast foods, and other low-nutrient foods, can have a major impact on the health and lives of our children. Rising rates of childhood obesity driven by this way of eating have received much attention; however, low-nutrient foods are still having negative effects on the physical and mental health of children who are not overweight. Children are not immune to the damaging health effects of the standard American diet, which can set them up for a lifetime of poor health ranging from heart disease to behavior problems and lower cognitive performance.

On average, U.S. children and teens consume over 200 calories a day from soda and other sugary drinks, and it is estimated that about 14 percent of their calories come from fast food.1,2 As a result of the poor diets of American children, more than one-third of normal-weight teenagers (and about half of overweight teenagers) have at least one diet-related risk factor for heart disease.3 These dietary patterns have the potential to dramatically affect not only public health but the productivity of our future adult population; studies have implicated poor diet in limiting intelligence and academic performance, and also has drawn parallels between consumption of sweets during childhood and violence in adulthood.4,5

A study on soda consumption found an increase in behavior and attention problems in five-year-old children (as assessed by their mothers) with increasing daily consumption of soda.

Forty-three percent of the five-year-olds in the study drank soda at least once a day. The authors adjusted their results for potential confounding factors that might affect behavior, such as hours of television and a stressful home environment, and still found a significant association between soda consumption and aggression, withdrawn behavior and poor attention. They proposed that caffeine and/or fluctuations in blood sugar might be responsible for the association between soda and behavior problems.6 

Blood glucose levels do affect the workings of the brain, and habitual high sugar intake has been shown to impair cognitive function.7 Several previous studies on high school students have also associated soda consumption with aggressive behavior, as well as depression and self-harm.8-11 Plus, higher sugar sweetened beverage consumption is linked to diabetescardiovascular disease, and cancers.12-19

In addition to soda, higher fast food consumption in fifth grade (four or more times per week) has been associated with poorer academic progress in math, reading and science between fifth grade and eighth grade. Children who ate fast food one to three times per week—a common level of intake—compared to those who ate no fast food had lower scores in math. These results suggest that children eating fast food frequently could slow their academic progress.20

The food habits children develop in their early years have a substantial impact on their physical health and mental well-being throughout the rest of our lives. Parents need to know this information, so that they can help their children to live healthfully, maintain a positive mindset, and reach their full cognitive potential.


1. Lasater G, Piernas C, Popkin BM. Beverage patterns and trends among school-aged children in the US, 1989-2008. Nutr J2011, 10:103. 
2. Rehm CD, Drewnowski A. A new method to monitor the contribution of fast food restaurants to the diets of US children.PLoS One 2014, 9:e103543. 
3. May AL, Kuklina EV, Yoon PW. Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among US Adolescents, 1999-2008.Pediatrics 2012, 129:1035. 
4. Smithers LG, Golley RK, Mittinty MN, et al. Dietary patterns at 6, 15 and 24 months of age are associated with IQ at 8 years of age. Eur J Epidemiol 2012, 27:525-535. 
5. Moore SC, Carter LM, van Goozen S. Confectionery consumption in childhood and adult violence. Br J Psychiatry 2009,195:366-367. 
6. Suglia SF, Solnick S, Hemenway D. Soft drinks consumption is associated with behavior problems in 5-year-olds. J Pediatr2013, 163:1323-1328. 
7. Ye X, Gao X, Scott T, Tucker KL. Habitual sugar intake and cognitive function among middle-aged and older Puerto Ricans without diabetes. Br J Nutr 2011, 106:1423-1432. 
8. Solnick SJ, Hemenway D. The 'Twinkie Defense': the relationship between carbonated non-diet soft drinks and violence perpetration among Boston high school students. Inj Prev 2012, 18:259-263. 
9. Solnick SJ, Hemenway D. Soft drinks, aggression and suicidal behaviour in US high school students. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot 2014, 21:266-273. 
10. Lien L, Lien N, Heyerdahl S, et al. Consumption of soft drinks and hyperactivity, mental distress, and conduct problems among adolescents in Oslo, Norway. Am J Public Health 2006, 96:1815-1820. 
11. Pan X, Zhang C, Shi Z. Soft drink and sweet food consumption and suicidal behaviours among Chinese adolescents. Acta Paediatr 2011, 100:e215-222. 
12. Fagherazzi G, Vilier A, Saes Sartorelli D, et al. Consumption of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages and incident type 2 diabetes in the Etude Epidemiologique aupres des femmes de la Mutuelle Generale de l'Education Nationale-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Am J Clin Nutr 2013. 
13. Malik VS, Hu FB. Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Curr Diab Rep 2012. 
14. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, et al. Sugar Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2010. 
15. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH. The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PLoS One 2013, 8:e57873. 
16. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2009, 120:1011-1020. 
17. Bernstein AM, de Koning L, Flint AJ, et al. Soda consumption and the risk of stroke in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr2012. 
18. Friberg E, Wallin A, Wolk A. Sucrose, high-sugar foods, and risk of endometrial cancer--a population-based cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2011, 20:1831-1837. 
19. De Stefani E, Deneo-Pellegrini H, Mendilaharsu M, et al. Dietary sugar and lung cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay.Nutr Cancer 1998, 31:132-137. 
20. Purtell KM, Gershoff ET. Fast Food Consumption and Academic Growth in Late Childhood. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 2014.

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