Obesity among children barely of kindergarten age is on the rise, and researchers have linked their development of the disease to regular consumption of sugary drinks, reported CBS News.
While it’s widely known that childhood obesity has tripled in the past three decades in the U.S.—an estimated 17 percent of kids and adolescents aged 2 to 19 are obese, evidence that drinking sugary beverages daily can lead to obesity in toddlers and younger children has only recently emerged.
“Even though sugar-sweetened beverages are relatively a small percentage of the calories that children take in, that additional amount of calories did contribute to more weight gain over time,” Dr. Mark DeBoer, a pediatrician at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told Reuters.
The study was published August 5 in Pediatrics. Researchers tracked 9,600 kids between the ages of 2 and 5 years old and their consumption of sugary drinks, including sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks that were not 100 percent juice. The children’s body mass index (BMI) was measured. Kids in the 95th percentile or greater for their gender and age are considered obese; those in the 85th to 95th percentile are classified as overweight.
There was an obvious correlation between drinking sugary drinks and a higher BMI for children at ages 4 and 5. Five-year-olds who drank sweet beverages were about 1.5 times more likely to be obese than their peers who didn’t.
For kids 2 years of age who also drank sugary beverages, a BMI increase was observed over the following two years, suggesting the gradual weight gain overtime could lead to obesity.
“As a means of protecting against excess weight gain, parents and caregivers should be discouraged from providing their children with [sugar-sweetened beverages] and consuming instead calorie-free beverages and milk,” wrote DeBoer and the researchers. “Such steps may help mitigate a small but important contribution to the current epidemic of childhood obesity.”
The researchers also noted that policy changes should be considered to help curb kids’ consumption of sugary drinks.