Would you give your kid coke – or any other soft drink?

ee-cola1A new study of 5-year old American children found that those who consumed the highest amounts of soft drinks exhibited a range of behavioural problems including aggression and attention difficulties.

The research, just published in the Journal of Pediatrics, looked at pop consumption and behaviour issues in almost 3,000 subjects in 20 different U.S, cities. A whopping 43 per cent stated that their kids had at least a serving each day.

Four per cent of the kids had four or more servings a day- a figure that was connected to a greater likelihood of exhibiting aggressive behavior or problems with attention  compared to those that consumed no soft drinks.

There are a host of influences that could be at play here including parenting styles, nutrient intakes and social factors.

Consider, though,  that this is not the first study  linking  soft drinks and behaviour  including  one where  Boston researchers associated carbonated non-diet drinks with an increased risk of violent behaviour in adolescents.

It all sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it?

The Boston scientists liken their findings to what’s known as the ‘Twinkie Defense’. The name was coined back in 1979 when a defendant in a murder trial argued that he had diminished capacity partially due to his recent dietary changes from a healthy diet to one full of junk food and cola drinks. Since that time, research has investigated the impact of sugary foods on behaviour.

Researchers speculate that the caffeine in addition to sugar in the soft drinks may play a role here.

There are many people who believe that sugar and hyperactivity in kids go hand in hand, but it’s not as straightforward as you might think. In some cases, it’s the situation – a birthday party, for example, with lots of excitement – that can bring forth the somewhat overly energetic behaviour in kids.

Or it could be the impact of consuming sugar, or other quickly digested carbohydrates, on blood sugar readings. Having sugar on its own can lead to a rollercoaster effect on blood sugar readings – first a sharp rise and then a sudden drop to sometimes lower levels than before the sugar was consumed. And it’s this low blood sugar that may be responsible for behavioural changes such as aggression, hyperactivity, anger or irritability.

Just how many times have you witnessed a hungry child become very irritable or moody?

Research shows that in the younger set – children and teens – low blood sugar levels are frequently accompanied by exaggerated stress hormone (adrenaline) readings. Some adults also experience this as well. In less severe forms, it’s simply described as being cranky. Add in the caffeine that may be found in some soft drinks and adrenaline levels can spike even further.

It’s interesting to note that Health Canada now allows caffeine to be added to non-cola soft drinks.

Studies such as these  may demonstrate that healthy eating can play a role in peace and harmony in the home and relationships with peers for youngsters and even some adults.
For both kids and adults alike, sugar-containing soft drinks may take the place of nutritious options, something that no one can afford to do on a regular basis. And who knows what part this plays in behavioural issues.

If you have young children, don’t get them into the soft drink habit in the first place.  If you don’t have these beverages at the table – even if it’s just for adults – they’ll be less likely to have them.  Being an example can pay off big.
To get off the blood sugar rollercoaster, be sure to include protein-rich options during meals and snack time. And keep in mind that a little goes a long way – an egg, an ounce or two of lower-fat cheese, cottage cheese, meat, poultry, fish or soy at meals. Grab a handful of nuts or add some yogurt instead of just fruit or crackers at snack time.

It might just help brighten everyone’s mood.

What are the beverage choices in your home?

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Categories: Research Roundup, Uncategorized

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Would you give your kid coke – or any other soft drink?”

  1. Mark McGill, RD
    August 19, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Full disclosure: I do not have any kids.

    I Had a Twitter discussion on this topic a few days back. I commented that why would anyone give their child pop. Was reminded that some parents do not know any better nor do they have access to anything healthier. As well, cost can be an issue as apparently there are places where bottled water, for example is far more expensive than pop. I had a hard time buying all of their points, but I rarely work with those who are food insecure.

    • August 19, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      Thanks for your comments, Mark. You’re right that some parents do not know better and in some cases, tap water may not be the safest choice. Cost would then be a factor. But there are many parents who don’t realize that it’s alright to say no to their kids when they ask for pop. Many parents don’t realize that they are the gatekeepers of their kids’ nutrition and as parents, have a profound influence on their children’s habits later in life. They may balk when they’re young but they do come around later!

      Full disclosure: I do have kids and there were many times that they wished that their mother was NOT a dietitian. They are now healthy eaters with great attitudes about food!

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