How Soda Affects for Your Kids

Cavities, weight gain … and violence? Soda may have a shocking new side effect for kids, according to a new study published online today in the journal Injury Prevention.

When researchers surveyed the habits of 1,878 Boston-area high school students, they found that those who drank five or more fizzy non-diet soft drinks a week were more likely to be violent toward family and friends, to carry a gun or knife, and to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes than teens who drank soda less often.

Although most people would agree that soda isn’t exactly healthy — for kids or adults, for that matter — this news may be alarming to parents concerned about this surprising effect on kids’ emotional health. Just how worried should you be? Here, five things you should know about soda and your child’s health:

  1. The sugary soda-aggression link needs more research. The new study is food for thought, so to speak, but it’s still not clear that the soft drinks themselves actually cause violent behavior in teenagers. Could there be underlying social factors in a child’s life, such as a low-income household or lack of parental supervision, that encourages him or her to drink a lot of sugary soda and also predisposes him or her to aggression? More research needs to be done to tease that out. What this study does do is add to the mounting evidence that a diet high in sugary soft drinks is harmful to children — both physically and emotionally. It is clear that, for a variety of reasons, parents need to take steps to limit their children’s consumption of soda.
  2. More alarming are soda’s effects on childhood obesity and diabetes risk. Studies have shown that regular consumption of sugary sodas can increase a child’s risk of obesity, and soda has also been associated with an increased risk of diabetes later in life. Dentists aren’t fans of sodas, not just because of the sugar content, but also because sodas can contain acid, which can erode tooth enamel and increase the risk of cavities. In adults, sugary sodas are linked to these issues and more — studies have shown that regular soda use can lead to a loss of calcium in the urine and may weaken bones over time.
  3. Soda isn’t the only food or drink that may harm kids’ mental health. Soda isn’t the only potential villain in a kid’s diet. Studies have suggested that an overall poor diet — one that’s high in processed foods and lacking in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains — can affect mood and increase the risk of anxiety. More studies need to be done, especially in kids, but researchers believe that diet plays an important role in both physical and mental health.
  4. Soda is okay every now and then — not every day. Ideally, soda should not be a regular part of any child’s diet. Sugary sodas not only contain tons of “empty calories,” but many contain caffeine, which can affect kids’ behavior and sleep patterns. One 12-ounce can of soda contains 6 teaspoons of added sugar; for comparison, the American Heart Association recommends adults consume fewer than 6 to 9 teaspoons a day — and for kids eating fewer overall calories, that number is even lower. Of course, it’s fine for a child to have soft drinks as a treat once in a while, but certainly not daily. Even non-soda sugary drinks such as lemonade, fruit punch, and fruit juices should be limited. Despite what the packaging might want you to believe, fruit juice has little nutritional value and is another source of refined sugar, so children should have no more than 4 to 8 ounces daily.