Sugary drinks in toddlers linked to adult obesity risk

Science and Health

Now, most people are aware of the fact – even though many do nothing to stop it – that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity during the first few years of childhood. But now, researchers at Swansea University in Wales have found that parents who give their toddlers such beverages put them at a significantly higher risk of becoming obese adults.

Published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition under the title “Early exposure to sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juice differentially influences adult adiposity,” the study tracked the influence of diet on 14,000 British children from birth to adulthood and is believed to be the longest of its kind ever reported.

They found that children who drank fizzy drinks such as cola or sugar-sweetened fruit cordials before the age of two gained more weight when they were 24 years old. Girls who had pure fruit juice gained less weight, while the weight of boys remained the same.

At three years of age, toddlers who drank cola consumed more calories, fat, protein, and sugar but less fiber. In contrast, those given pure apple juice consumed less fat and sugar but higher amounts of fiber. Those consuming one food, will be more likely to choose other foods, forming a dietary pattern.

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The standard American or Western pattern diet is characterized by a high intake of refined and processed foods that is high in both fat and sugar. Importantly, those who eat this diet are more likely to choose beverages and foods sweetened with sugar. Thus, this diet is very often a marker for the choice of a highly calorific diet, they wrote.

Dietary patterns formed at a young age 

The study also highlighted corresponding differences in food choices. Children who consumed pure apple juice often followed a diet with more fish, fruit, green vegetables, and salad, while those drinking cola ate more burgers, sausages, pizza, french fries, meat, chocolate, candies, and other sweets.

Additionally, the team discovered a link between sugar-sweetened drinks and social deprivation, with children from affluent backgrounds more likely to have access to pure fruit juice.

The lead researcher, psychologist Prof. David Benton who for the last 25 years has used diet to influence brain chemistry to promote health, mood, and cognitive functioning, said: “The early diet establishes a food pattern that influences throughout life whether weight increases.

The important challenge is to ensure that a child develops a good dietary habit – one that offers less fat and sugar.”While children should be encouraged to eat fresh fruit and vegetables to increase fiber and promote the habit of chewing, occasionally giving fruit juice adds vitamin C, potassium, folate, and plant polyphenols.

Benton’s colleague Dr. Hayley Young added: “Obesity is a serious health concern, one that increases the risk of many other conditions. Our study shows that the dietary causes of adult obesity begin in early childhood and that if we are to control it, more attention needs to be given to our diet in the first years of life.”